I Survived the Shootings at Columbine HS...what I'd like you to know now that I'm a mom

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Hey friends, Teresa here. Today’s conversation is a bit of a hard one.

With six kids at five schools, I pray each and every morning that they will stay safe within the walls of where they’re educated.

And each and every morning as I kiss them and say goodbye, I wonder if they actually WILL be safe. It shouldn’t be this way, but it’s the reality of today.

Crystal is a survivor of the shootings at at Columbine HS. And by survivor, I mean she witnessed things we pray our children never will.

In honoring Columbine’s 20 year anniversary this week, I wanted this dear friend to share her heart of forgiveness and remind us that when darkness surrounds, we must always let the light back in.

If you’d like to hear more of sweet Crystal’s heart, head over to my personal blog and read her post, Fear, Family, + School Shootings. xo Teresa


Lately, it's impossible to open up your news feed or turn on the TV without seeing a headline about a shooting somewhere in the world, where lives are tragically cut short at the hands of someone bent on mass destruction. It seems no one is safe, whether watching a movie, attending a concert, eating at a restaurant, or going to school, our lives and the lives of our children seem to be in peril. Whether we like it or not, we are faced with a choice, to either shrink back in fear, or to push forward in hope.

For me, that choice came nearly twenty years ago on April 20, 1999. I was a sixteen year old junior at Columbine High School. I had gone to the library with a few of my friends to study for a test I had later that afternoon. After only a few minutes in the library, a teacher ran through the doors screaming that we were in danger, as two boys with guns were shooting students.

beautiful painting of Columbines by  Oana Befort

beautiful painting of Columbines by Oana Befort

Immediately taking cover mere moments before they entered the room, we witnessed what would become the worst school shooting in history at the time. The library was where a majority of the violence happened that day, the same place where I pleaded with God to save my life and the same place where I stared death in the face. Regardless of where any of us were that day, we were all deeply affected. Regardless of whether you were even at the school the day, it has struck fear in the heart of every parent today.

What began twenty years ago at Columbine High School started an epidemic that has become rampant in our world still today. We live in a post-columbine era, where every student knows school is no longer just a place to learn, but also the next place where terror could potentially strike.

Therefore, if we look to the news, to inform our beliefs about others and the world around us, fear will take over and we will certainly loose all hope.

But let me assure you, all hope is not lost.

Hope can be found in the teacher who shields her students from raining bullets.

photo of Columbine memorial, just after shootings. provided by Crystal.

photo of Columbine memorial, just after shootings. provided by Crystal.

Hope can be found in the firefighter who runs into a burning building when everyone else is running away from it. Hope can be found in the hundreds of people who pour into a city or country after a natural disaster to bring aid and offer help. Hope can be found in the family who opens their home and their hearts to a foster child. Hope can be found in the army of people who show up after the loss of a loved one to cook, clean and help. Hope can be found in the nurse who sits at the bedside of a sick patient all night caring for them. Hope can be found in the friend who sits with and listens to you in your darkest despair and depression, refusing to let you be alone.

Hope can always be found in our kindness toward others and in the kindness others show us.

Because kindness reminds us that there is still good in the world and it gives us courage to press forward despite our circumstances. Kindness is the tonic we need for a world torn apart, bruised and battered by war, famine, disease, disasters, injustice, division, hatred, racism and violence. We can never underestimate the power of a kind word, a kind act, or a kind gesture. What the world craves now, maybe more than ever, is to know they are not alone, they matter, they have a place to belong and they are loved.

photo of Columbine memorial, just after shootings. provided by Crystal.

photo of Columbine memorial, just after shootings. provided by Crystal.

Kindness will not solve the worlds problems, but it will make the journey through difficulties much easier to bear.

We need one another, we are made for one another. It’s easy to forget such a simple truth, in this day and age where we run at breakneck speed toward our dreams wishes and desires, and see people as means to an end. It’s easy to forget our need for one another in this day and age where we lead lives dictated by our schedules, and the schedules of our kids, never stopping long enough to enjoy a moment. It’s easy to forget our need for one another in this day and age where social media is king and the number of likes and comments alone give us self-worth. What if we looked up from our phones and our devices more often to remember that we need one another, that we can offer safety, connection and belonging for others to process their pain and grief?

What if we quit getting so angry over each other’s offenses to recognize that we are all more alike than we are different?

And what if we listened, instead of always trying to be heard?

photo of Columbine memorial, just after shootings. provided by Crystal.

photo of Columbine memorial, just after shootings. provided by Crystal.

Is it possible that we can build better neighborhoods, places of work and schools when we look to the needs of others above our own? I believe the answer is yes. I believe so many of our problems today stem from the fact that we have forgotten to care for one another. We have become more concerned about ourselves and what we can gain. Most issues in society could be impacted through the basic understanding of human decency toward our fellow man. I am not sure I understood this truth until I came face to face with humanity at its worst at Columbine on April 20 1999.

Rainbow over what would become the columbine memorial (behind Columbine HS) provided by Crystal

Rainbow over what would become the columbine memorial (behind Columbine HS) provided by Crystal

Sometimes it takes seeing the darkest night, where hopelessness abounds to recognize hope and light and our great need for it.

Change starts with me and it starts with you.

But listen, this is important…

Our children look to us as mothers in how to treat and look out for others. They look to us to lead them into a bright future, a future where they lead the charge, not by force or power, but in humility and kindness. And if you touch the heart, you can make transformation a more true reality. Don’t get me wrong, we must still talk with our children about the real dangers of school violence. It is vital that they are aware of the red flags and trained to have a plan in the event of an attack.

But ultimately as mothers our effort is best spent teaching our children the value of others, by entering into their stories. It is nearly impossible to hate or dislike someone once you know where they came from. Teaching our children to see beyond their snap judgements and get to know people for who they truly are, is of utmost importance. Always being on the lookout for those marginalized and on the fringe of society. As mothers we can teach our kids that kindness has the ability to spread like wildfire and offer hope to a hopeless world. The hope for our future is found within the walls of our homes, and in the mama who never stops teaching them!


READ MORE ABOUT  CRYSTAL  (AND ALL OUR AMAZING CONTRIBUTORS) BY HEADING TO  THE & GALS  SECTION

READ MORE ABOUT CRYSTAL (AND ALL OUR AMAZING CONTRIBUTORS) BY HEADING TO THE & GALS SECTION

Author and Speaker, Crystal is a survivor of the shootings at Columbine High School and has been seen on The Today Show, CNN, Dateline, and featured in Glamour, Marie Claire and Time Magazine, as well as countless other media sources as she advocates for hope after extreme tragedy.

10 Steps to Healthy Living (it may not be what you think!)

What comes to mind when thinking of “healthy living”?  When I say healthy I don’t mean we need to be at our ideal weight, or on a super strict diet…I mean we need to be pursuing health so that we can be the best version of ourselves.  In this article, I’m going to give you ten things you can start doing right now to help kickstart this movement!  I know what you’re thinking…TEN?!

Well, here’s the thing:

Baby steps still move you forward.

With those baby steps in mind, I encourage you to just hone in on one or two keys on this list that aren’t currently a practice in your life. Simply start there.  Have grace for yourself and dare to begin!

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1.Be kind to yourself!

Yes, I did this one first for a reason.  I know for me personally, I am the harshest with myself.  I “speak” to myself in a way I would never in one million years speak to a friend.  I truly think living a healthy life starts with treating yourself like you would treat a friend!  This is a process, no perfection required.  Be kind!

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2. Get your sleep

Research has shown that our bodies actually need 7-9 hours of sleep per night.  If we really paid attention, so much of poor health can be linked back to lack of sleep. Just like we often remind our children that they need to go to bed because this is when our bodies heal and recharge, we sometimes need to remind ourselves the same!  Set an alarm on your phone at a certain time and label it “shut it down” . Start winding down from your work/your phone each night 30 minutes earlier than normal and allow your body the rest it needs to thrive.

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3. Drink plenty of water

This is a great challenge for yourself to start your day with a glass of water.  My health coach painted this picture for me that after sleeping, our insides “need a shower” and that’s what a big glass of water will do.  Make it a point to drink water throughout your day and see how it makes you feel.  Also more water typically equals less caffeine, which is never a bad thing. Note: If you struggle drinking water, spice things up with lemon, lime, fresh berries, or a sprig of something yummy!

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4. Fuel your body

So much of what we put in our bodies determines how we feel.  Our body digests foods at different speeds and can tremendously affect how we feel. Changing the lifestyle of my eating has drastically improved my quality of life.  It’s not about losing weight, dieting, or looking a certain way - it’s about how you feel!  When we are fueling our bodies with whole foods (not processed), we have more energy and “fuel” for our days.

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5. Establish a morning routine

I fought this one so hard, but establishing a morning rhythm has allowed me to start my day in a healthy way.  I started by making a list of what my “idea” morning would be, and then worked from there.  It’s important to remember this is not a check list, or a to do list but simply a routine (or rhythm) allows our minds to take a rest.  It leaves room for creative space, increases productivity, frees up time.  YES!

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Let’s Talk Exhaustion & Morning Routines

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6. Live uncluttered

I truly believe that our physical surroundings affect our inner life.  Clearing the clutter of our physical space, clears up mental space and gives us time back.  Healthy living and living uncluttered go hand in hand in my book.

RELATED ARTICLE:

Living an Uncluttered Life

7. Create a support system

Living a healthy lifestyle alone is so much harder than living it alongside someone else.  Ideally, our partners would be seeking to live a healthy lifestyle with us - but if your partner isn’t on board yet, find a friend or sister to come alongside of you.  Having the support and accountability is everything.

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8. Move your body!

Again, this isn’t about losing weight or looking your best but it’s about how you feel.  Find something that you love and go for it.  Maybe it’s a group class, an at home video, getting outdoors…..moving your body will help you feel good and give you energy.

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9. Establish a Quiet Zone

Take time away from your phone, the noise, your work….this is so important especially as women who are juggling so much.  If we never stop, we will burn out.  Setting aside an intentional time each week to set away from the never ending responsibilities to just BE will do so much for your health and wellness.  I’m challenging you!

RELATED:

Head over and read the text in this Instagram post about Creating a “Zone of Silence” twice a day.

10. Set your intentions

This is so much a mind game, y’all.  I promise that living a healthy life is possible for you, but you have to decide that for yourself!  Be intentional, set yourself goals or intentions and just dare to begin!

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I believe in you!  You are one step away from living a healthy life…all you have to do is dare to begin. 

Forever cheering for you, Wynne


READ MORE ABOUT  WYNNE  (AND ALL OUR AMAZING CONTRIBUTORS) BY HEADING TO  THE & GALS  SECTION

READ MORE ABOUT WYNNE (AND ALL OUR AMAZING CONTRIBUTORS) BY HEADING TO THE & GALS SECTION

WRITTEN BY WYNNE ELDER: PHOTOGRAPHER, WRITER, ENCOURAGER, & COMMUNITY BUILDER.

10 Ways to Teach Kids to be Others Focused

Moms, we all know that pouring into our children’s character is important. In fact, teaching them to become caring, kind, and people of good repute is one of the biggest things we can teach (and sometimes the hardest!). So when we’re able to teach in a hands-on way, there is a benefit all the way around. When our kids witness a lifestyle of focusing on others, they too, begin to prioritize it in their own lives. I definitely don’t consider myself an expert in this area, but I do sincerely enjoy finding new ways to reach out to others and invite my kids into the process.

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Believe it or not, I’ve actually learned more from my kids in this area, than I believe they’ve learned from me. For the most part, our children (ages 8, 4, 3) have been untainted by the judgements and prejudices that we tend to carry. They see people and they see the world through a loving, compassionate and caring lens. They have nothing to lose by being kind to others.

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I love the quote from Martin Luther King Jr that says,

“It’s the quality, not the longevity of one’s life that’s important.”

When we live with others in view and recognize that we all belong to each other, we find meaning, but also discover our purpose.

Kindness towards our friends, family, neighbors and even strangers can have a greater impact than we realize. It can truly change somebody. It’s possible it could change their life, sure. But more likely the things we do will be small and consistent, brightening someone’s day. And these days, we can all stand for the world to be a bit brighter.

It’s impossible to turn on the TV without seeing a world torn apart, bruised and battered by war, famine, disease, natural disasters, injustice, division, riots, racism, hatred, mass violence, and death.  And if we look to the news to inform our beliefs about others and the world around us, we will certainly lose all hope.

But hope can be found in people like you and your children, committed to focusing on others and spreading kindness for the betterment of all.

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Hope is found when you share a warm meal with a person living on the streets.

Hope is found when you give presents to kids at Christmas whose parents are incarcerated.

Hope is found when you sit across from a refugee and offer your friendship as you listen to their struggle and story.

Hope is found when you go out of your way to help someone you wouldn’t typically help.

When we look back on history, I believe it is the everyday heroes of hope, that we will remember and celebrate most.  Those who refused to grow silent on issues that mattered most, those were a voice for the voiceless, those who fought for justice and equality, those who dignified the marginalized, and those who elevated those pushed down by society.  

Focusing on others is a challenge because it means helping people who are different than you in the way they look, talk, or act. Those who believe different than you, vote different than you, and live different than you.

If you are like me, then you love the idea of molding children who are others focused… but sometimes lack fresh ideas and inspiration. My aim is to give you a few tangible expressions that you can put into practice with your own family…feel free and modify or add to these below!

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Ideas on how to care for others:

  1. Blessing Bags

    A year-round and ongoing project that we exercise are bags for the homeless. My kids and I will go to the store and pick out a variety of toiletries, snacks and a few necessities. When we get home we get to fill the bags with all the goodies. Sometimes the kids will write notes or draw pictures. Sometimes we include money, sometimes we don’t. But typically we include a Bible and pray for the person receiving the bag. Our daily drive gives us the opportunity to encounter a handful of people who may benefit from one of our bags

    The best part of all comes when one of the kids rolls down their window to share a bag and a smile with their new friend. On several occasions it has awarded us some very special conversations. It’s amazing what people are willing to share when we take the time to listen. Often a person living on the street will share what it is that has led them to that place in life. Several we’ve met, are incredibly grateful for their new bag and for life itself, which leaves us feeling grateful for all our blessings.

  2. Random Acts of Kindness (Starbucks edition)

    I’m not gonna lie, my kids and I frequent Starbucks almost daily. We love our yummy treats, but what’s even better is buying the yummy treats for those customers in line behind us. I personally have been on the receiving end of this gift and it always puts a smile on my face and reminds me of the goodness of people.

  3. A Little Restaurant Love

    At restaurants my family and I will, on occasion, buy another family dinner or leave a large tip for our waiter or waitress to bless them and thank them for their patience of dealing with us (wink). We always seek to talk to our servers and get to know them. What is more, we aim to frequent the same establishments in order to grow those relationships on a deeper level. 

  4. You Get a Donut, You Get a Donut, EVERYBODY Gets a Donut!

    At random and based on no particular reason, the kids and I will pick up a dozen donuts, cookies or cupcakes and drop them on a porch of an unsuspecting friend or stranger. Who doesn’t love sweets showing up on their doorstep?!

  5. Meal Drop-off

    I think one of the most practical and helpful ways we can bless another person, especially another mom, is to take someone a meal. We can invite our children to cook with us and write special notes and then go with us when we drop it off to someone who is sick, had surgery or experienced loss in their life. This also allows us to have some very real conversations with our own children about suffering and hardship. 

  6. Honoring Miscarriage + Loss of Children

    For our family, every March represents a significant time in our family. I lost a son and my children lost a brother many years ago. Therefore, we use his birthday as an opportunity to show extravagant acts of kindness in his honor and ask others to join us in doing the same. One year, I was able to connect with a mama who had recently lost her own son to suicide. I wrote her a long note letting her know she was not alone and that there was hope. I took her flowers and a special piece of jewelry to remind her of her son. Year after year, I am amazed how I am able to use my lose to help someone else experiencing loss of their own. Entering into the suffering of others teaches our kids not to be afraid of difficulty and how to grieve with those who grieve. 

  7. Sponsor a Child

    There are many organizations where you and your family can sponsor a child. Our family have three different sponsored children in three different countries (ROWAN, World Vision, & Compassion International are two very well known and reputable organizations). Your kids are able to write and receive letters from their sponsored child, which gives them much needed perspective of the world at large. When you’re children are older, I suggest traveling with them to third-world countries and staying awhile. Their eyes will be opened to how the majority of their world lives outside of comfort. 

  8. Acts of Service to Those who Serve Us

    We love to take care of our garbage man, our mailman and our local ups and FedEx drivers. So my kids will make lemonade and distribute it to them when they come. As a result they know my kids, they wave and smile at them whenever they come through the neighborhood. They have developed sweet friendships with these men and women. 

  9. Back-to-School

    In the fall we fill backpacks full of school supplies for children who would otherwise be unable to attend school without them. For example, many foster children in our cities struggle to have what is needed for the new year, let alone anything brand new.

  10. Christmastime

    a) At Christmas time we tend to do a lot of projects that focus on others. One of our very favorite is Operation Christmas Child. It’s such a great lesson to head to Target and pick out school supplies, necessities and toys for kids affected by war, poverty and natural disasters. Often my kids will ask me for a toy for themselves and get upset when they can’t get one. I always love a good object lesson about how others do not have some of the same privileges and blessings readily available to us. 

    b) Another thing we do at Christmas is make goody bags with candy or candy canes and hand them out in parking lots, in stores, and at the mall. It’s fun seeing folks suddenly forget about their shopping-stress as a smile spreads across their face when one of our kids hands them a treat.

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Please do not feel overwhelmed or discouraged if this is not a part of your family’s rhythm. Start small, try little things and build up. I truly believe it is better to do something rather than doing nothing. Good luck, and have fun experimenting with what it looks like for you to become focused on others, and then finding ways to teach those lessons to your children!

Comment below on other ways your family could (or does!) care for others and be less self-focused!


READ MORE ABOUT  CRYSTAL  (AND ALL OUR AMAZING CONTRIBUTORS) BY HEADING TO  THE & GALS  SECTION

READ MORE ABOUT CRYSTAL (AND ALL OUR AMAZING CONTRIBUTORS) BY HEADING TO THE & GALS SECTION

Author and Speaker, Crystal is a survivor of the shootings at Columbine High School and has been seen on The Today Show, CNN, Dateline, and featured in Glamour, Marie Claire and Time Magazine, as well as countless other media sources as she advocates for hope after extreme tragedy.