Simply Insider
Rick Lawrence



The 1999 Columbine shootings happened near my home in Denver, and in the aftermath I was invited into the community of first-responder youth workers, to come alongside them as a resource and a friend. In the 15 years since that mass murder, we’ve been force-fed a regular diet of school shootings, and I’ve connected with many more youth workers who’ve been caught up in the swirl of violence.


And then, two days ago, my 15-year-old daughter Lucy was at the other end of a hallway from Karl Pierson, an angry teenager with a shotgun, bent on killing his debate coach who works in the Arapahoe High School library.

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Lucy was in the cafeteria, studying during her off-hour, when the guys standing next to her spotted the shooter and raised the alarm. She and all the others in the cafeteria dropped everything and ran across the mouth of the hallway, toward the outside doors. Inexplicably, Pierson turned away from them and went in the opposite direction. A school counselor yelled at the kids to stop and take refuge in a locked counseling center instead. Lucy was one of a handful of students who heard the counselor’s cry and stopped.

As Lucy turned to run toward safety she heard the blast of three shots down the hallway. Pierson had just shot a 18-year-old girl near the library.

Lucy and 15 other students frantically crammed into the counseling center, and for 45 minutes she sat on the floor in a tiny hallway listening to the tragedy unfold over the counselor’s walkie-talkie. Nearby that counselor was trying to comfort a special-needs student who was getting more and more frantic. In a burst, that student broke away from the counselor, ran to the locked door and flung it open, escaping into the hallway. The counselor sprinted through the door after him. At the time, no one in the room knew if the shooter was still active, and they were staring at an open door. The next thing they saw was the end of an assault rifle come around the corner and poke into the room, and they screamed. In a moment the room filled with SWAT team members, ordering the kids to get their hands up. Once they’d determined there was no threat in the room, they barked at the kids to keep their hands raised above their heads and get out of the school. Lucy hustled with the other students through an outside door, across a barricaded street, and into an empty grocery store where they clumped together in the produce section at the back of the store.

At that point, Lucy called my wife from the store to tell her she was safe—most of the world, including my wife and I, had no idea anything was happening at Arapahoe. Like every other parent, it’s hard to believe the violence that is “out there” could somehow be “in here.” Caught off-guard, my wife asked, “Safe from what—aren’t you supposed to be in school?”

A minute later my wife was on the phone to me, so frantic I couldn’t understand everything she was saying. I was 90shooting_girlfather minutes away in a planning meeting for our Simply Youth Ministry Conference in March. My wife had been out Christmas shopping. We dropped what we were doing and raced to Arapahoe. Two hours later, after she’d been released from a “reuniting location,” I was holding Lucy at home—her face was flushed and her body was still shaking as she told her story.

In the interim between then and now we’ve had a house-full of friends and teenagers and relatives talking and crying and hugging late into the evening, and my email inbox has filled up with messages from youth workers from all over the world, offering encouragement and prayer. When I woke up the day after this ordeal I lay in bed, trying to understand how all of this has impacted me, and how all that I’ve experienced merges into the river of my relationship with Jesus.

And I thought of something I wrote for a book I just finished called Skin In the Game (it’ll be published in early 2015)—this little artifact from the book comes closest to capturing the orbital center of a life lived in the ugly/beauty of a desperate dependence upon Jesus: Singer/songwriter Regina Spektor captures the dynamic outcome of a dependent relationship with God in a brilliant piece of piano-driven post-folk pop music—here’s a portion of her song “No One’s Laughing at God,” from the Far album:

No one laughs at God in a hospital

No one laughs at God in a war

No one’s laughing at God When they’re starving or freezing or so very poor

No one laughs at God

When the doctor calls after some routine tests

No one’s laughing at God When it’s gotten real late

And their kid’s not back from the party yet

No one laughs at God When their airplane starts to uncontrollably shake

No one’s laughing at God When they see the one they love, hand in hand with someone else

And they hope that they’re mistaken

No one laughs at God When the cops knock on their door And they say we got some bad news, sir

No one’s laughing at God

When there’s a famine or fire or flood

Spektor nails it—no one is laughing at God when they actually need Him. And our fears surface our need for God. Skeptics and atheists and those who are uncomfortable going all-in with Jesus hold onto a sneaking suspicion that faith in Him is a crutch, and therefore indicative of a kind of pansy-weakness that is intolerable to people living in a make-it-happen culture. Who can afford a dependent posture in a world that demands toughness and strength?

When NFL offensive lineman Jonathan Martin of the Miami Dolphins abruptly left the team in the middle of the 2013 season because, he alleged, noted bad-boy lineman Richie Incognito had mercilessly bullied him, the biggest surprise was the backlash against Martin. Many in the sports community, and the culture at large, accused Martin of being “too soft” to play in the NFL. For example, when Denver Post columnist Benjamin Hochman asked Bronco defensive lineman Terrence Knighton if he’d want Martin on his team, he bluntly replied: “He’d have a hard time finding friends in here. There are no soft players in this locker room, and there’s nobody who doesn’t stand up for themselves as a man.” We live by a simple dog-eat-dog ethic—dependence of any kind is an unaffordable weakness. And perhaps that’s true, especially when it comes to chemical and relational addictions. But all of us, at some point, will be compelled to stop laughing at God (whether in this life or when we face Him in the next one).

And in those moments when dependence seems the perfectly rational response to our circumstances, we experience a kind of clarity that is easy to brush off as fear-induced desperation after we’ve survived the fire. But it is not our everyday independence that is whispering the truth to us—it is our dependence, sometimes driven by fear, that shows us the path to life.

Praying for our students,



[1] Lyric excerpt from “No One’s Laughing at God,” written by Regina Spektor, from the Far album (Warner Bros, 2009).

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  • Cale says:

    Great post. Praying as well.

  • Tony Martinez says:


    Your words brought me to tears this morning. These moments don’t make sense to me. I’ve determined that it isn’t my role to understand them at all. What struck me most as I considered your post was a simple reality: The raw and real process of finding our faith again in after pain and evil crashes into our lives is an amazing example of His love and grace to all of us. Thank you for opening your heart to us and sharing in such a difficult time.

  • David Porath says:

    Thank you for opening your heart as you shared your daughter’s experience. These are different and difficult times and we need to unite and be one body of Christ. I am praying for your family and all the families involved and victimized in this tragic event as well as the shooter and his family. Lives are changed forever and the only thing greater than that is Christ. May your Christmas continue to shine as one of hope and love. May others see Christ through you more than ever this Christmas.

  • mrbill says:

    EXCELLENT Rick!~ Thanks for this!

  • Becky Lang says:

    In 2001 Santana High School in Santee, CA a suburb of San Diego, had their moment when no one laughed at God. My daughter and her friends were in the center of the violence that day, so I understand the panic, relief and heplessness you felt in those first hours after your wife’s phone call.
    I remember calling your office a day or two later and sharing our story then asking for a recommendation of a book I could get for our students and families. Rick, you not only recommended a book, you and Group Publishing sent us 2 cases of books we could give to students and parents struggling through the violence that had invaded our lives that March morning. Thank you for caring for our community on that day.
    Know that our prayers go out to your family, as well to all from the school and community as you all work through this tragedy. My prayer is that those who find themselves no longer laughing at God, will also find their forever peace in Him. That the nightmares will be broken by the comfort of the Holy Spirit and that families will once again find their sons and daughters lingering for small talk a little longer at home.

    Becky Lang

    • Rick Lawrence says:

      Such a powerful and kindred note from you—so very grateful we were able to play some tiny role in the journey from ugly to beauty in your community. The direct experience of something like this gives you an immediate connection with those who’ve lived through something similar. Grateful for the community of believers who are so entrenched in Jesus that nothing, even random violence, can pry them away from living a life of worship…

  • Kris says:

    Prayers for you and your family as you navigate through this tragedy. Thank you for this post, Rick. It’s hard to imagine the horrors in this world touching so close to home. I am thankful for your thoughtfulness to share this experience with us. Blessings my friend.

  • Carol says:

    Rick it would be helpful to follow up this post with some of the questions and conversations that you have with your daughter as she unravels these events over the next days and weeks. What fears are the residual effect of Friday’s events. What words are comforting? Which Bible passages were helpful. Maybe she can co-author it? It always helps me to journal these things out. Her insights can be so helpful to youth pastors and volunteers as we minister in these situations. I have prayed for her and you as you travel this road with her.

    • Rick Lawrence Rick Lawrence says:

      That’s a great suggestion… We have a little windows of time when we can bring meaning and reflection to all of this—the rest is coping with the aftermath and dealing with the emotional drain that accompanies it. My daughter is a wonder—and yet she is struggling to understand her own emotional landscape through all this… I’ll talk with her today about the questions you’ve raised…

  • Great Post!! Definitely praying for you, the family and the school.

  • Tommy says:

    Not only am I struck by your bravery for sharing your story in this article, I’m struck with the bravery of your daughter for sharing her story. I have no idea what I would have done in any of those situations. The way those scenes were described got my heart racing in a way that allowed me to imagine what it might have been like to be there. I am grateful for this reminder of my dependence on God this morning. Thank you for your words. And I am super impressed at how you have been responding to all these comments!

    • Rick Lawrence Rick Lawrence says:

      Tommy, thanks so much for your note, and for entering into our story with grace and encouragement—it really means a lot ot us.

  • Rick – I wept for you and Bev and Lucy as I read this account….and for all the students who are running, whether it be from bullets or flaming arrows — one and the same, to be sure. You and your family are treasures to me and I am beyond words of gratitude that Lucy and the Lawrences were spared the worst. Praying for your family as you navigate the extended trauma that comes from an event like this – with Lucy, with her friends and school personnel, with your family. Love you…

    • Rick Lawrence Rick Lawrence says:

      Thanks so much for the treasure of your love for us—and so grateful for your intercession on our behalf. Some moments have been beautiful and some ugly… Still just learning who we are in the midst of it…

  • Tammy says:

    Thank you so much for your inspiration and truth. Continued prayers for our kids!

  • Christianprincess says:

    I truly pray that God heals our world. The amount of violence going on is of crazy, war-like proportions. It can be difficult as youth workers to balance our empathy with our desire to survive what appears to be hopelessness in our world and the families we serve. It becomes even more personal when it affects our loved ones.

    I am glad she is safe and that most of the others are as well. Praying greatly for you, your family, this school, and your community.

  • Pat Youther says:

    Rick, I’m grateful for your transparency in sharing this with us and for your faithfulness in responding. It models what discipleship looks like. I’ll be praying for you and your family–and the other families going through this.

  • […]  Although 1,000 miles from me, very close to home.  One of my dearest friends has a daughter who was in the sights of the gunman.  A counselor ushered kids to safety until emergency responders could evacuate them […]

  • Brenna Strait says:

    Thank you for sharing your heart! Praying for your family as you seek peace and healing from this worldly craziness.

  • Kendall Clark says:

    Thank you for writing this! I am praying!

  • Erik w/a k says:

    Wow. Rick. It’s hard to know what to say. As I read your words I was in Lucy’s school (in my mind) and feeling the fear, the questions, the confusion, etc.

    As I imagined the phone call and your drive to pick Lucy up I was devastated knowing we can’t protect our own kids (and the students we serve) and a tear rolled down my face.

    Praying for you. Praying for your family. Please tell Lucy that my kids, wife and I are praying for her tonight. Praying peace. Praying sleep. Praying that she will be able to go to school and fully engage I what The Lord has for her every day.

    • Rick Lawrence Rick Lawrence says:

      So, so thankful for your note—Lucy and my wife are particularly in need of sleep. They’re having a hard time, and that’s making a raw situation moreso for them…

  • Brit Windel says:

    I greatly appreciated your words in this. Stacie & I’s prayers are going out to you, Lucy, the families involved. Praying God will show how He will leverage this mess for something Beautiful.

  • Terry Weaver says:

    Thanks so much for sharing this with us. What a gift of you just being real and raw as a father. I was actually working from my couch last Friday afternoon and just happened to surf on CNN and just wept as I watched the whole thing unfold. I can only imagine the ministry that has happened at your house over the weekend. I am always amazed how in the crisis how ministry just shows up at your house. It’s really easy for us to get so caught with with planning ministry that we actually miss it.

    I speak in public schools all of the time and until I did I did not realize how many hurting and broken kids there were. Now I know. I think we all know. I meet students all of the time how have no hope and many feel like they have no purpose to live for. I am broken for Arapahoe but can’t wait to see how God makes beauty out of the broken.

    • Rick Lawrence Rick Lawrence says:

      Terry, thanks so much for taking the time to enter into this with me, and with our community. I was just at a special FCA gathering for kids and their parents, and the pastor leading the gathering asked us to throw out what we hope for from God, in prayer. I said: “Beauty out of ugly.”

  • […] “The 1999 Columbine shootings happened near my home in Denver, and in the aftermath I was invited into the community of first-responder youth workers, to come alongside them as a resource and a friend. In the 15 years since that mass murder, we’ve been force-fed a regular diet of school shootings, and I’ve connected with many more youth workers who’ve been caught up in the swirl of violence. – See more at: http://www.morethandodgeball.com/simply-insider/the-power-of-a-gift/#sthash.Mul5YLMN.jTNgL39Q.dpuf […]

  • David Perez says:

    During times like these when we are inclined to say, “There’s no way Jesus is here in the midst of all this mess,” He whispers relentlessly, “Yes. Yes, I am.” I’m always so encouraged by the ways you look for Jesus in every situation. Thank you for this heart felt post, and I will continue to pray for Lucy as she processes all of this.

    • Rick Lawrence Rick Lawrence says:

      DJP, thanks so much for your note—you’re right, Jesus will not be denied access to our ugly… And thanks very much for your prayers.

  • Kevin Becht says:

    Thanks for sharing your story. Praying with you, Rick!

  • Ron Foster says:

    Wow. Thanks for sharing this, Rick. It brought back a lot of thoughts and memories from 1999. I had gone to high school in Lakewood, CO and was away at Bible college when the shootings at Columbine happened. There were several of us from the same youth group at college together and I just remember gathering together, praying for our youth group back home, our youth pastor, and the students at Columbine. The fear and restlessness we had all day waiting to hear any news. 2 years later, I found myself serving as a youth pastor in Long Island, NY when September 11th rolled around. You’re so right when you talk about no one laughing at God. What I found most intriguing about the whole situation, was not all the people flooding churches, but how many people that were open to talking about God for months following. Whereas before, they may have said that they didn’t want to talk about any of that stuff, now they wanted to. They were grateful for someone asking. I’m so glad you’re daughter is safe. Will be continuing to lift you and the community up in prayer. God bless.

    • Rick Lawrence Rick Lawrence says:

      Thanks so much for sharing your story—trauma creates a kindred-ness that is palpable. I really appreciate your encouragement, and your intercession…

  • Tim Black says:

    The older I get the more I realize that my entire identity rests on my dependence upon God. How great it is that God loves us all and is unfailing in that mercy. Great column and know that we will be praying for all of you.

    • Rick Lawrence says:

      I think you just spoke the greatest truth—“my entire identity rests on my dependence upon God.” That’s the posture of people who’ve been released into freedom…

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