Devoted Blog

An Open Letter to Virginia Beach

June 4, 2019

Dear Virginia Beach,

As a local, I am so very sorry that we are at this point where mass shootings, which have become a constant companion of today’s society, have found a way to add Virginia Beach to the list. With broken hearts, we stand with the entire community, especially those whose lives have been irrevocably changed by the horrific shooting this week. Some are parents, siblings, and children of those killed or wounded by gun violence. Some are survivors who have been wounded in shootings or who have witnessed terrible acts of gun violence. We will live with the effects of Friday’s tragedy for the rest of our lives.

On Friday, May 31, 2019, the history and fiber of our city were changed dramatically by an angry gunman and former employee shot up a Virginia Beach municipal building. This senseless act took the lives of 12 people and wounded several others. It was the day when our lives were shifted in ways that are still unfolding today.

Immediately after the shooting, many have and will attend candlelight vigils, share moments of silence, memorial convocations and special church services. But after a few short weeks, all these events will dissipate. Those not directly impacted will appear to return to a normal life without any issues. However, many will struggle to try to navigate the new normal that was thrust in their laps.

Life can be very unpredictable

Even though we attempt to map out every aspect of our lives, occasionally we get thrown a curve ball that we had not bargained for. When we are forced to encounter these unpredictable turn of events we can either allow ourselves to be swallowed up in the darkness or misery of uncertainty or pull up our bootstraps and face the situation head-on.  Crawling forward with pain, disappointment, grief, anger, and uncertainty.

Even in my own life, while following a path I thought would lead to one thing, my plans were altered against my will and personal blueprint that I “knew” was designed for my life. As a result, a whole new arena was opened to me. Through some pretty rough times, costly experiences and intimate encounters with God, the wealth of wisdom I received is the most valuable possession I own. Now, on this side of those experiences I can say as the infamous poet Maya Angelou declared:

Still, I rise!

We will rise as we go through this together. Of course, our experiences will be unique because the tragedy has affected us differently. But, we are #VBSTRONG and will rise again. Here are a few things I have learned when forced into a new normal:

  • Life does not end because of a disruption:  A disruption often launches you into uncharted territory. These uncertainties can cause you to experience a sense of detriment, but you have to remind yourself that you can and will survive this. Expressing your feelings may liberate you for a time but it is important not to get caught up in the pain of the moment. The rut of painful emotions will rob you of the valuable energy you need to heal and to move on. Get it out and get over it so you can keep going.
  • Life is a process and comes in stages:  Life happens in chapters so do not settle in and get comfortable in any phase of life. Just as anything out of season is spoiled, so it is with the “seasons” of life. If you try to hold onto a season that has passed it causes you to become “spoiled.” In order to be fresh for your next phase of life, you have to be willing to leave what is comfortable and embrace a “new” normal. In the words of a wise man named Solomon, “To everything, there is a season and a time for a purpose under the sun.”
  • Life does not require you to know it all in advance:  Sometimes you are learning as you go. Whether traveling for our business or going to visit family my husband and I spend a lot of time driving on the interstate. Many times we are traveling a rode we have not navigated before, one full of curves, hills, and tunnels. We are not always sure what will be around the next corner, but just as we continue to drive forward on our journey – regardless of the unknown, there are times we must do the same in our lives.

In this life, we will not always know what is at the next corner of the map. At times, we are forced to explore the unknown. Even with the most detailed plans, we have designed for our lives, life can throw us a curveball and cause a massive change to the game. It is not what happens to us that matters most; it is more about our response to the situation. When life throws you a curveball, and do not worry – this is not the last one, we can either curse it, swing at it, try and dodge it, or stay in the game and wait for the next pitch. Whatever you do remember, “Life is a journey, not a destination.”

Virginia is for lovers

We know the power of fear, we must now transform it into love. Fear cannot find its way without direction. Love can. We are #VBSTRONG – We hurt and grieve, but neither will become our permanent address. Instead, we will allow love to heal us.

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

Whether you believe in God or not the serenity prayer applies to all of us. Seeking the wisdom to know the difference is a quest we should all want to be on if we care about sustained well-being. Truth is, we cannot have universal serenity or courage any more than we can always keep both our bicep and triceps contracted. They are “antagonistic,” or “reflexive.”  This is why alcoholics seeking change recite the serenity prayer at AA meetings. the goal is to change some things and not others while accepting the dis-ease but not the behavior. In essence, holding their standards for a better life as unchangeable while acknowledging the past is still a part of the journey.

Without question, this is a horrendous time, but we will rise from fear together. We will lift each other up; raw from the time we spent in fear, vulnerable from our newfound self-empowerment. Trembling not from fear, but newfound strength; we will rise with tremulous legs and embrace each other. We will feel the freedom of letting go of fear.  In this freedom and in this space we will find love, and we will find it in each other.

This is not the end. We will rise. We are Virginia Beach strong!

Grace and Peace,

Cherese Jackson