by Jane Grippen Jafferi

Friday, December 14 started routinely for me. I was listening to Fox News just before 10 AM and heard the breaking story about a school shooting in Connecticut. Little did I know that news bulletin would pull me into a whirlwind of prayer and action.

I stayed glued to the TV set as the day progressed and the horror of the homicides only increased in number and detail. I was agitated and anxious all day; I paced and prayed. I couldn't sleep that night. I knew I had to DO something, but I didn't know what, other than pray and ask others to do the same. It still wasn't enough.

Saturday morning as I watched the news again, I suddenly remembered my friend Greg Zanis in Aurora, IL. For the last fifteen years, Greg has been placing crosses at the sites of multiple murders all over the country, first gaining national attention with the Columbine murders in Littleton, CO. He also put up crosses after the shootings in Oregon, Arizona and Aurora, Colorado. Greg began this ministry of remembrance to honor his father-in-law, who was murdered in IL in 1996, and Greg has traveled ever since at his own expense to bring a message of hope, comfort and strength to the families of the victims. I knew Greg would be going to Connecticut, and I knew I was to go with him.

Greg called me at 3:15 on Saturday afternoon; I packed and left my apartment at 3:30, knowing only that I'd be meeting Greg in Illinois and we'd be driving straight to Newtown, CT and coming back right after we'd set up the crosses there. As I made the six-hour drive to Greg's home, I received calls from people Greg knew who would pay for gas and be waiting for us when we arrived in Connecticut. God had already provided the money for anything else we'd need, so we were on our way.

Having packed his truck with 26 crosses and a Star of David, Greg began the drive. We stopped only for gas and snacks, taking turns at the wheel.

We arrived in Newtown, CT at 3:30 Sunday afternoon and were escorted to the center of town by four NBC staffers who weren't covering President Obama's speech at the high school. Greg had said he'd know the right place for the crosses when he saw it, and he did. As we drove toward the the center of town where people were quietly laying their memorials, Greg spotted a large lawn next to an old building. "That's it!" he cried. "That's where I want to put the crosses!" The old building turned out to be an old church turned coffeehouse/ice cream shop. It was, we learned, appropriately called Heaven. We unpacked the crosses and set them in a long line on the lawn.

It was misting but not raining so Greg began writing the names and ages of the victims on the crosses. I set little stuffed animals on the bases of the crosses and a single silk rose next to them. Greg and I both prayed as we worked and with some of the townspeople. We had hoped to avoid the press and the people surrounding the President, and we lucked out. Only a few reporters lingered where we were, and since Greg is a man of few words, we only had brief interviews with NBC, BBC and a Canadian network. A British reporter asked me, "Do you think this terrible tragedy will prompt your country to enact stricter gun laws?" I quickly and firmly told him, "We're not here to toss out a political football about gun control. We are here to honor the victims and bring comfort, hope and strength to this community. We want them to know that the whole world is watching and praying for them." As Greg says, "The crosses speak for themselves."

We spent two hours in Newtown and left before the media and the multitudes arrived at the spot where we'd been. The townspeople we met were gracious and welcoming, and our hearts were full of both sadness and gratitude as we drove back to Illinois. Sadness for those whose lives will never be the same, and gratitude for having had the opportunity to bring some small measure of assurance to the community that they are not alone or forgotten.

After dropping Greg off in Illinois, I headed home to Wisconsin. I'd logged more than 2400 non-stop miles in 2 1/2 days and had had a "once in a lifetime experience", just as Greg told me. I was numb with emotion for a week.

Newtown changed me forever. Life is more precious, and I now hold those I love closer than ever. We are not promised tomorrow. We have only today to tell others we love them. Do it now. Tomorrow may be too late.