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.

No one talks about what happens when the pursuit of happiness doesn’t work out the way you thought it would

It’s been said that the test of a true man’s character is the way he behaves when no one is watching. The last few years of my life have lead me to believe that a better testament of personal character is how we respond to life’s blows, and how we treat others when we lose everything.

This past year my family has lost every single asset that has come to define modern day success.

Whether filling out school, home, or job applications, our entry to security and opportunity are all qualified upon this value of financial success…of winning.

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The world tells us to boldly chase after what sets our soul on fire. To be fearless and to #riseandgrind. We put entrepreneurs and risk-takers on pedestals, and we are led to believe that if we want something bad enough, and are also willing to put in the time and sacrifice that it takes, we can achieve all of our hearts greatest desires (these photos are an example of a dream come true…that was suddenly gone).

Sometimes that happens. My husband was lucky enough to achieve enormous success in business at a very early age. He brought significant impact to companies by doing things he was remarkably talented at, and those impacts made companies a great deal of money. His personal financial gains from those wins made taking more bold leaps possible, and seven years ago when we embarked on building our life together, we set off to do just that.

At that time, I believed that my husband and I were both destined and entitled to even more “success” because we were two of the most intelligent, honest, and hard-working people I know.

We do the right thing, even when that meant we took the biggest hits, because we value integrity above all else. We are not afraid of hard things.

We have collectively sacrificed so much to try and get ahead, and we did it all because success meant we had the opportunity to change other people’s lives.

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But even in the face of all of those realities, we managed to lose the two things that we thought we needed the most - my longing for security - and my husband’s desire for freedom.

Let’s be honest, those two losses were horribly difficult to swallow.

Some of our losses were due to the inevitable missteps that one takes when pioneering and disrupting into new territories, some were the byproducts of personal growth, and many of our losses (and the hardest to recover from) were the consequences of being taken advantage of by people who did not share our core values.

No one talks about what happens when the pursuit of happiness doesn’t work out the way you thought it would.

How do you stomach disappointment? How do you modify your lens of success when you try your best and you don’t succeed?

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And this is what I have learned as I stand here today in the reckoning of letting go of the security that I once believed defined me…

Most leaders believe that the biggest indicator of success is money, because money equals power, power equals freedom, and without freedom we have no control. I have learned however, that the things that give you the most fulfillment in life (for us, there is no greater meaning in life than the kind you experience as a parent) are often the things you lose sight of on the journey towards building your safety net.

While research has proven that money only increases happiness up to the point of about 70K a year, I still held on to this notion that ambition, if altruistic in nature, could bring purpose to your life.

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I surmised that business could act as a vehicle to create impact and to give back - and I have since come to understand that the biggest gifts I have given to others didn’t lie in the money I donated to charitable causes, or within the opportunities I provided, but in the ways I loved just a handful of people with my whole heart.

I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.
— Maya Angelou

For a long time, I held onto this system of belief that my need for safety and freedom had to be met in order for me to be happy.

I have transformed that ideology in recent months to uncover quite the opposite. When you are the most stripped down and sitting in the absence of the things you think you need the most, is when you truly awaken to the magic of the world around you.

When you are forced to stop all the doing, grinding, charging, achieving, driving, hustling, and fighting is when you get still enough to focus on the being of human existence.

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I should admit that I am still in the process of forcing myself to stop the cycle. Accepting disappointment is certainly not my biggest strength.

When you don’t feel secure - you feel afraid - and its human nature to want to charge to fix it, control it, and solve it. When you feel stuck, and you don’t have answers to your problems, it is ever so difficult to let yourself be still and to focus on the sound of your child’s laugh, the wind at your back, the blessings you have in just being alive.

But this is the new measure of success I have set for myself and these are the goals I am striving towards: embracing disappointment and finding joy in the absence of getting what I thought I needed, being fully present to the simple joys of life, and expressing gratitude for what I have instead of mourning all that has been lost. 

The silver lining of my story is that when you lose everything, you get to wipe the slate clean and start over…and as it turns out the security, freedom, and success I have always wanted, was always right here for the taking. It just looks different than I expected. The world is still our oyster, and I wouldn’t bet against us.

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That’s all about doing, not being – and while doing will bring you moments of joy, it won’t necessarily reward you with lasting happiness. Stop and breathe. Be healthy.

Be around your friends and family. Be there for someone, and let someone be there for you. Be bold. Just be for a minute.

If you allow yourself to be in the moment, and appreciate the moment, happiness will follow.  Because allowing yourself just to be, puts things into perspective.

There’s a reason we’re called human beings and not human doings. As human beings we have the ability to think, move and communicate in a heightened way.

We can cooperate, understand, reconcile and love, that’s what sets us apart from most other species. Don’t waste your human talents by stressing about nominal things, or that which you cannot change. If you take the time simply to be and appreciate the fruits of life, your stresses will begin to dissolve, and you will be happier.
— Richard Branson

READ MORE ABOUT  CHRISTINA  (AND ALL OUR AMAZING CONTRIBUTORS) BY HEADING TO  THE & GAL  GUIDES SECTION.

READ MORE ABOUT CHRISTINA (AND ALL OUR AMAZING CONTRIBUTORS) BY HEADING TO THE & GAL GUIDES SECTION.

WRITTEN BY CHRISTINA CERANNA: ENTREPRENEUR, CREATIVE DIRECTOR, PHOTOGRAPHER, SOCIAL MEDIA & CONTENT STRATEGIST