Five years ago this month Jeanne Assam shot a gunman at New Life Church in Colorado Springs and saved countless lives. She was called a national hero and lauded by President George W. Bush. It looked As if her life would change forever. But before Assam could move forward, she first had to confront herself.
Sunday morning, early fall. Assam walks through the sanctuary doors at the nondenominational Mile Hi Church in Lakewood. It’s a massive structure; hundreds of people fill dozens of pews that face two oversized screens on each side of a warmly lit, polished stage. There’s some music and reflection, and then more music. A singer belts out Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror” while folks stand and sing and sway. In the last row, Assam remains seated.
Dr. Roger W. Teel, Mile Hi’s senior minister, gazes out toward the worshipers. Gray-haired with an almost permanent, easy smile, he’s dressed in a suit jacket and pressed slacks. The screens on the wall flash his image, there is a call to prayer, and the congregation goes silent.
This morning, the sermon is about change—how each season is a metaphor for stages in life. “Seasons of the soul,” the minister calls them. Winter is a time of quiet, he says; spring, a moment for initiating change; summer, a time of fulfillment, of moving on. And then there is fall. Changing leaves shrivel, then fall to the ground. Autumn begins the process of letting go, Teel says, to “clean out the soul’s garage.” From her seat, Assam nods. It’s as if the minister is speaking to her. “I just went through that release,” she whispers.
Teel talks some more, and for the next 15 minutes, Assam listens. Then there’s more music and more singing and more swaying. The collection basket comes around, and Assam drops a couple of dollars into it. “Everyone holds hands after this, and I’m not too touchy-feely,” she says. “Let’s go.”
But she doesn’t get far. A few minutes later, she’s in a line with 50-some people, all of whom are waiting to see Teel. “He’s doing some deep healing,” Assam says of the minister. She wants him to know she feels welcomed here. Assam says she’s closer to becoming the woman she knows is deep inside her. It’s the same woman who stared down a killer and revealed her true self—confident, calm, and most important to her, obedient to God’s will. For now, she is certain about who she is not. A few months ago, someone on the staff learned Assam was attending the church and asked if she wanted to join the security team. She declined politely.
The line shrinks quickly and Teel spots Assam. He wraps her in a hug. “Jeanne, it’s so great to see you!” he says. They exchange greetings for a few moments, then Assam steps back. “I just wanted to tell you,” she says, “how great this church has been for me.”
The man smiles. “I’m so glad to hear that,” Teel says. He asks if she’s planning to attend the “Beyond Limits” class on Tuesday, which is designed to help people lead happy and effective lives.
“I’ll see you then,” she tells him.
Teel reaches out both arms and wraps her in another hug. Assam says goodbye, and then walks through the church doors into the sunlight.