The happy, laughing voices of children at play in the beautiful park were suddenly shattered by the “crack, crack” of small arms gunfire. To the horror of parents and friends attending the soccer match, three children immediately fell. Pandemonium and fear gripped everyone as they scurried for cover.
Ed Bartholomew was the first to reach his son, Tommy, sprawled on his back with his eyes open. To his father’s amazement, Tommy was blinking his eyes and breathing. There was no sign of blood, just two holes in his jersey where the bullet had entered and exited.
“Dad, I think I’m ok,” said Tommy. “I don’t know what happened; something just hit me in the chest and knocked me down.”
Ed pulled up Tommy’s jersey and found the military dog tags worn around his neck bent and creased. He had given them to Tommy when he returned from Iraq. They deflected the bullet from Tommy’s chest, saving his life.
Tommy rose to his feet and seemed perfectly fine. He turned to his dad and said, “We’ve got to see if the others are ok.”
Sighing deeply, his dad responded, “You’re right, son. You were very lucky. God was here with you today.”
Checking on the other boys, they found that both had been hit, but neither seriously. They went to the hospital for treatment and overnight observation.
Officer Muldoon, the park beat cop, came over and told them that the shooter had been caught. He was an Iraq war veteran who suffered from post traumatic stress disorder and was recently released from the VA hospital. He would be returned to the hospital pending legal action.
The boys’ soccer team was sponsored by their church. The minister decided that next Sunday’s service would be about the incident and the protection provided by God. Each boy was invited to speak if he wished to.
Tommy talked with his dad about the service Saturday afternoon. He didn’t know what to say.
“Well, son,” his father replied. “Just speak from your heart. Pray about it tonight and God will help you decide what to say.”
That night, kneeling by his bed, Tommy prayed:
“Dear God. Thank you for protecting us from serious injury or death. And help us to remember to live our life like it can end tomorrow, because it might. And also help us to forgive the man who did this, and give him the love he needs. In Jesus’ name, Amen.”
Ed Bartholomew was listening outside the door with a smile. His heart swelled with pride. Tommy was growing up the right way.
The next morning at church, Tommy was the only one volunteering to speak. Slightly shaking with nervousness, he went forward, cleared his throat and faced the congregation. He had never before stood in front of a large audience watching and waiting for his words. Taking a deep breath, he began:
“God has blessed me and my teammates in a special way. He has a purpose for us in life and it hasn’t been accomplished yet. Each of us needs to remember that and do the best we can to do whatever that is. And we also need to have forgiveness for the man who tried to hurt us because he is sick and needs help. I will pray for him every day.”
With that, he returned to his beaming parents and listened as the minister continued the service. He was so thankful that he was sitting there with them instead of lying in a hospital bed.
That night before bed he thought about what had happened over the last week. He realized that life is very uncertain and that it has to be lived fully before it is gone. He also thought about the troubled veteran who had fired the shots and worried about what would happen to him. He said a prayer for his forgiveness before falling asleep.
The next morning, he told his dad something that both surprised and pleased him.
“Dad,” said Tommy. “Will you take me to the hospital to see the man who shot us? I want to tell him that he is forgiven. I know he is sick.”
His father looked down and said, “You know, Tommy, that’s a good idea. That could’ve been me. I’ll take you after school.”
With that, Tommy hugged his dad, and headed for school, knowing that his actions today would hold special meaning for a lifetime. God rules always.
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