Tragic event helps survivor accept that God is in control


For many people living peacefully with the idea that God is in control is a life-long evolution.  For Chuck Wright this acceptance began just seven years ago and was accelerated when he survived the shooting spree at Omaha's Von Maur Department Store in December 2007.

It was what Wright called "a typical day" at Von Maur and he was on his way back to clock in after lunch at a mall restaurant when he heard loud noises. "It sounded like circuit breakers going off," said Wright, a member of St. Columbkille Parish in Papillion. "Then I heard two more of those sounds and realized it was gun fire."

As shots continued to ring out, he and another employee took cover in the west storage room. "By the time we had gotten there, the shooting had stopped. It was less than a minute," he said.

While still hidden, he called his wife and told her he was okay, but there had been a shooting.

"I kept looking out the door and saw no activity. It was very quiet," he said.

After about 15 minutes, a lone deputy arrived and began to assess the carnage that had unfolded as Wright returned to work. Nine people were dead, including the troubled youth who had caused it all.

In the chaos that followed, Wright said he quickly realized that something had kept him safe. Returning just a few minutes earlier from lunch would have put him on the escalator with the shooter, or at the very least, in plain view of him as he began his deadly ascent to the third floor, Wright said.

He called it another turning point in a series of discoveries he was making about trusting God. Since turning 59 seven years ago, Wright found himself re-evaluating his life and his work.

He and his wife Peggy have been married 41 years and have raised three sons, who have families of their own. He wondered both verbally and through his daily journaling what God wanted him to do.

As a young man, Wright said he was "combative" both in how he accepted God's guidance and life. This included needing to know what the future held and then acting as if he could control everything, he said.

"The challenge has been making that jump from wanting to feel I'm in control all the time to letting go and accepting God's guidance and what is," he said. Through journaling he learned that the less he tries to control things, the more serenity he feels.

"I was headed in the direction of letting go of that. Von Maur allowed me to let go more quickly," he said. "I realized that I really wasn't in control that day. There was something in my life that was taking care of me.

"We have all been through things that are emotionally painful. When you get to the other side, you realize you weren't the one who got there - it was God helping you, nurturing you through that process."

One of these moments happened the day Von Maur reopened to the public following the shooting. People from around the Midwest flooded the store. They shopped, consoled and visited with the survivors.

Among them was a priest from Norfolk who told Wright God had more things for him to do. While encouraged by these words, the old Wright might have struggled to find the next step, but he wasn't concerned.

"I've learned that God will tell me what to do," Wright said. "I have to be in a place to listen and allow myself to be guided and directed, and it's going to be in his time, not mine."

That doesn't mean he's waiting to take his next step. He left Von Maur in January and will celebrate his 66th birthday later this month. He's not sure if this is retirement, but "not having a job is giving me a chance to look at other things in my life that are important to me," he said.

As someone who has worked all his life, he's making the transition the only way he's learned how.

"There are times when I literally go to church during the day just to walk in and sit down. I don't really consider it prayer. I'm just visiting with God, asking for direction," he said. "I find when I do that I find peace. I don't necessarily have answers, but I feel like it will all work out.

"God knows what he wants me to do. I know this is a spiritual plan. He and I are partners, even though he's the one in control. He's got my best interest at heart, and I have less anxiety over the unknown."

Printed with permission from The Catholic Voice, newspaper for the Archdiocese of Omaha.

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