“It Could Have Been Me” by Gayle Smith
Wednesday, December 5, 2007 seemed like any other day, but I will remember it for as long as I live. I was at the Westroads mall moments before the shooting began, and I know that God intervened in my day and protected me and my little 4 year old boy from being in the middle of the shooting. Looking back and reflecting on my actions and decisions for my day, I clearly see how God sovereignly changed “my” plans and ordered my footsteps to safety. Here is my story:
I had taken Ben in for his speech therapy class when Joe rang my cell phone and wondered if we could meet him for lunch. I thought that sounded like a great idea because I had many errands to run and knew that Ben would be ready for lunch as soon as he was out of class. Joe asked where should we meet? I pondered for a moment and not being able to think of anything immediately, said “God, give me wisdom” and the Westroads came to my mind immediately. I said how about we meet at the mall food court [this was unusual for me since I usually avoided mall food] but Joe said sure, I’ll meet you there. We arrived there at about 11:50 a.m. and parked between the food court lot and the Von Maur store. We proceeded to go in and see that it was pretty busy but headed toward Subway and got in line, finally getting everyone’s food in order we proceeded to sit down and eat and talk about our day. At about 12:45, I told Joe that Ben and I were going to stay and shop because I had a few things to get and had a little time to spare, so we gathered ourselves up and hugged and kissed and as Joe headed for the door, Ben and I headed toward the mall. Suddenly, Joe turned and came running back to us and put his arms around us and layed his hand on the top of Ben’s head and said “I plead the blood of Jesus over you.” I looked at him questioningly, and he said, I want you guys to be safe. As Ben and I continued to walk into the mall, Joe continued to walk with us and seemed unwilling to leave us there, eventually I stopped because I was heading into Younkers to buy him a birthday gift and didn’t want him to see what I was getting for him. He realized he needed to get back to the office and turned and walked out, leaving us on our way into Younkers. We hit the men’s section and then went into the Children’s section to look for a Christmas outfit for Ben and some things for Jaymie, our 10 year old daughter who was at school.
As I think about the next 30 minutes, I am so amazed at how God delayed me from leaving Younkers any earlier, because the Von Maur girls section was my very next stop and it is on the 3rd floor of Von Maur where the shooter killed 7 or 8 people. Anyway, at Younkers I struggled to find the right sizes for Ben, we tried clothes on, then suddenly Ben needed to use the restroom, and when I finally settled on our purchases, we headed to the checkout line (which earlier had been totally non-existent), it was suddenly 6-8 people deep. So, I decided to take a detour into the girls section again looking for any last minute gift ideas. Stopping at a number of racks, I never could settle on anything and really felt like I was wasting time and headed to the checkout which was now totally vacant again. At about 1:30, Joe called my cell and asked what we were doing, I said still shopping, and he said “Gayle, I am really praying for you guys, I’m not sure what is up, or if it maybe has to do with the President being in town, but God has me really praying for you guys.” I said, great, keep it up, not sensing any danger, any urgency, just totally enjoying my time with Ben and the joy of the season. At 1:35, I left the Younkers store heading into the mall, and glanced at my watch thinking I had time to still hit Von Maur’s girl section. It was at that moment that the thought came to me that “you do not have time to do that, you need to go to the bank and get Jaymie from school.” I turned to Ben and said we have got to go, we will have to do Von Maur another day, we are just out of time. We walked straight to the exit through the food court and stopped by the doors. I knelt down and struggled with Ben’s gloves and hat and all, he could not seem to get his fingers into his gloves properly and I felt stressed that we weren’t out the doors yet. So I told him to leave them on and I would straighten them in the car. We loaded up and pulled out driving directly by the Von Maur store, at what must have been about 1:42, which is exactly when the shooting started. The news reports say that the shooter went into Von Maur around 1:30 and then left, and then returned 6 minutes later and immediately started shooting people. At 2:00 p.m. Joe called my cell phone and asked where we were, and if we had heard the news. I said no, what news, and he told me about the shootings at Von Maur. It took hours before the enormity of the situation fully sunk in and I began to think about my day and how close I was to being right there with my little Ben in tow. Struck by many emotions, we have all struggled to make sense out of it, but mostly, I have felt a wave of worship in my heart to my God for his enduring love and faithfulness.
I do know that if Joe had not been sensitive to the Holy Spirit to pray for me, (and later we learned from our friend in Houston, Dorothy Horton, who called Weds. night to say that she had carried a burden since Tues. night for us and had been praying almost constantly,) that “my” plans would have taken Ben and I into Von Maur and up the escalator to the third floor at almost exactly 1:42 that day. We were at the opposite end of the mall and it probably would have taken us 7 minutes to walk down and get into Von Maur. I tremble at the thought of it, but also at the mercy and goodness of God in sparing us and directing us out the doors so that we did not even experience the panic and fear that swept through the mall. Joe and I both thought of 9/11 and how people were kept from entering the twin towers by “little things” in their lifes…stopping to tie a shoe and missing the bus, stopping for an extra cup of coffee, or answering the phone, and it was small things yesterday that kept me from going to Von Maur, thank you Jesus.
As I have pondered these events over the past 24 hours, I have asked God so many things. Why did he direct us there on that day when we rarely ever go to the mall, and why were our footsteps so carefully orchestrated right out the doors at the exact moment we needed to be out, and why did innocent people have to die that day, and why didn’t I hear a warning from the Holy Spirit myself. Some things God has answered, and I know that over the next weeks and maybe months God will continue to reveal things to us, other things are not settled yet, but here is what the Lord has shown us so far:
• When I first asked the Lord why we were spared and others were not, I heard him say, “…goodness and mercy shall follow you all the days of your life.” Psa. 23 And yet, I know that God loves each and every person that was involved yesterday……
• When I asked Joe the same question, the Lord spoke to him, “man does not live by bread alone but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.” Matt. 4:4 It was God’s unction for prayer that caused Joe to carry us in prayer and also Dorothy, and maybe some others that we do not know about yet.
• The Lord also showed me that as his children we are the righteousness of God in Christ Jesus, and that the footsteps of a righteous man are ordered of the Lord. I know that God ordered our footsteps yesterday, from start to finish, and I now believe he does every day.
• Why were we at the mall in the first place? Not sure about this one, but when the news people reported this morning that the gunmen had many more live rounds that he could have used but did not, I wondered if the Lord placed us there, because we are his vessels in the earth, and perhaps His Spirit in that place stopped any further lives from being taken. I just don’t know the reason why yet.
I do know that the Lord has dealt with me about some things personally, lessons learned through this ordeal. What bothered me the most was my lack of hearing any warning from God. I have a strong gift of discernment, but yesterday I was oblivious to any unction from God to get out, to pray, to intercede, I just didn’t hear. Why is that? Could it be that I am too consumed in my life right now? Too busy with Christmas shopping and Christmas plans, too busy enjoying my time with my family and fretting over everything I need to get done this month! We are the people of God, we need to hear and hear accurately. If I would have been more in tune with His Spirit, maybe he was calling me to intercede in that place and prevent the tragedy or cause a different outcome, or operate in his authority in whatever way he would have directed. So forgive me God, for being so busy that I only heard part of what you said. You got me to Westroads, and you got me safely out, but I’m quite sure I missed your instructions for why I was there. One thing that stands out so much is the warm feeling of God’s intense and passionate love for me. God’s love is resting over me like a warm and glowing mantle. I also feel so loved by my husband and that means so much to me.
Joe has many things to share on this story from his perspective. God had shown him some things that he dismissed too quickly and didn’t pursue, and yes, God had him in prayer and I believe that God used that prayer to get Ben and I out. I thank God first for his incredible love and faithfulness to me, even when I seem too busy for him, and I thank God so much for my loving husband, who took the time to pray for us and call us and sense that there was a need for prayer and covering.
Joe and I want to express our deepest condolences and heart felt sympathy to the family members of the victims, to every person who experienced trauma, fear, panic, and pain through this ordeal, and it is our greatest prayer that you all be healed and restored and carried in the grace and peace of God through all of this. Mostly, we pray that if you do not know Jesus as your personal savior and best friend, that your hearts will be opened to his invitation and that you will ask him into your lives, experience his love, and receive the gift of eternal life with him.