Where Are You?
Last Sunday night, I sat captivated, listening to what was undoubtedly the best, most powerful, divinely inspired sermon I have ever heard. In fact, no sooner than I’d gathered my girls from their classes and walked to my car did I call both my mother and sister to tell them about it. A couple days later , I’d call the church to see if I could get am audio recording of the sermon so that my family could hear it (unfortunately, as of yet, the church does not have it on their website. Should that change, I will post the link here.)
It was hope-filled, but stark. It was part history lesson, wholly Biblical. It was amazing.
It was about the conflict in the Middle East. Which was ironic, because for days prior to this, I’d forced myself to look at pictures of unspeakable horror, including one of a little girl no more than 4 years old who had been decapitated. In a desperate effort to understand, I’d read up on the current conflict. I listened to interviews. I read political jargon and I watched heartbreaking news coverage. I understood… But not really. All I understood was the stark fear; The fear of those people in the Sinjar mountains faced as they confronted bold human beings unafraid of committing the most audacious, evil, heinous acts of torture since the Nazi regime.
There is a story of a mother who was running for her life from a group of Nazis. She was carrying her infant. She ran into a building and up some stairs but she knew she was trapped. She knew she, and her baby, were unequivocally going to die. Instead of letting the Nazis have her baby, she tossed the infant out of a window in a desperate attempt to spare the baby from the hands of the Nazis. Instead, a laughing Nazi used his bayonet to spear the falling infant. He then laughingly complained about the blood that splattered onto his infamous black boot.
I know mass genocide has been perpetrated since Hitler. I know ethnic cleansing has been, too. Rwanda, Darfur and others. Horrible stories from these mind-blowing, catastrophic events exist. But the Second World War and the Holocaust changed my life; it shaped a very vulnerable and fragile heart with the stories of evil it possessed. And, up until now, nothing I have seen or heard in regards to the other situations has gripped me like the stories of the Islamic State (formerly ISIS) has.
Did you know that, before he became moving them to concentration and death camps, Hitler allowed the undesirables to leave Germany? Did you also know that the Islamic State allowed people to leave? Did you know that the Islamic State branded the houses of Christians with the Aramaic letter “N” which stands for the word “nasrani?” “Nasrani” means “Christian” in Aramaic. Did you know that the Jews had to wear a yellow star with the word “Jude” on it everywhere they went and that the Nazis confiscated the Jewish houses and businesses, just as the Islamic State is capturing the Christian and Shiite properties? Did you know that countries, civilized countries who spoke about human rights, stood idly by for years while whispers of mass murder went on, just as we have done in Darfur, Rwanda and are doing now in the Middle East?
I think because of all I have invested in the history of the Holocaust and 2nd World War, the similarities I see now hurt me deeply.
After leaving church, I dug deeper into my research of the current conflict. But because of the sermon I had heard, I felt aware of God the entire time. Then, yesterday, I was driving down a road I’ve driven down dozens of times before. I stopped at a stop light and, as I sat there, I found myself saying aloud, “Where are You?”. In fact, I asked it twice: “Where are You?”
I have a tendency to want to fix things. I’m a peacekeeper. I will not fight. Even if that means failing to stand up for myself. But I wasn’t even alive during for another forty years after the Holocaust. When I learned about it, it was already in the history books, it was over. There was nothing I could do to stop it. There was nothing I could do to comfort one of the hurting. All there was to do was soak up the stories and allow them to be a beacon of hope for a little girl who was going through her own war.
And there isn’t a lot I can do now for these people either. I don’t have the resources to defeat the Islamic State, or to make sure that they do not destroy the Sykes-Picot Agreement. I can’t make sure they don’t redraw the Middle East. I can’t undo the terror those people are going through or undo the trauma their lives are being altered by. In fact, the scary thing is, I know that the United States, my homeland and a country I’ve always seen as strong, can’t, either, even if she weretrying as hard as she could.
The only One I know who could stop it is the Almighty God. But, just as He didn’t send angels to miraculously remove Jesus from that cross, He has to let this play out. Israel has a purpose and a plan and a calling far greater than any goal the Islamic State has.
Still, I weep for the people. For the good fathers who can’t protect their daughters, for the mothers who have nothing to feed their babies, for the little girls and the little boys whose bodies tremble all night long from sights and sounds far worse than any Disney villain American children know. I weep for the dreams that are being shattered, one by one, like glass. I weep because I know that even those who survive the Islamic State will never again be the same.
The One they believe in, the one I believe in, can shelter them. He made food rain from the skies for Moses. Water came from a rock. These are not fairy tales, they’re true. And when I was driving, visions of stories I know from the Holocaust, painful memories of me as a little girl, holding my hand up to the ceiling and praying, believing, for Him to just hold my hand, flashed through my head. The pictures I’d seen, the footage I’d watched, it raced through as though on a carousel. And I wanted Him to show me He’s here—with my girls but also with the people in the mountains and in the villages facing extinction through extreme violence. I wanted to know why that little girl in the picture I saw had to die. I wanted to know who was comforting the pair of boys who huddled together, trying to play while starving , in another photo I saw. I wept for the nightmares. I wept for the memories. I wept because of the fear and pain that has saturated my life.
I took my girls to an idyllic park the other day. It has a creek and it also has honeysuckle vines. I’m not sure who was more excited about this—me or them. We gathered up a bunch. It took a few tries before we were able to pry a drop of honey onto our lips. But the first drop that fell onto their tongues was priceless. The look of joy on their faces real. Today, we went to a different park. Their favorite part was not playing on the swings or walking along the trails. Their favorite part was sitting in the shade by the pond, tossing bread to the ducks. They oohed and ahhed about how sweet the ducks were and how pretty. We giggled over watching their webbed feet swim and how they stick their whole heads under the water. Before the ducks arrived, fish leaped up and stole bread pieces from the surface of the water. Breathe, Alight and I were awed.
Earlier this week, August 13, we declared it to be Sparkle Day. We decorated a sign we stuck on the fridge and, in honor of Sparkle Day, we painted our nails , then used glitter to add some shine to our fingers. We used a lot of glitter on Sparkle Day.
Tomorrow is Friday and, to celebrate, we are going to be staying up late, catching fireflies in mason jars, drinking Peach Tea and sleeping out on our trampoline. We’ll tell stories and sing “The 12 Days of Christmas.” We’ll Chatter Chat.
Wrapped in these moments, I find God’s joy and peace. If I stay focused on Him, then my girls and I will be okay. Fear is powerful not because it is reality but because it threatens my sense of stability. If I’m able to remember that, in my heart, I am indeed a saved Nasrani and have someone powerful and merciful guiding my life, then no matter how dark a day becomes I know there is a reason and purpose for it. Just as there was a reason for not supernaturally removing Jesus from the cross. Just as there is a reason Israel will eventually be attacked.
Where is God when so many children are hurting in unfathomably ways? Where is He when the ones innocent of wrongdoing are betrayed, tortured, hurt?
I have seen my share of trauma both in childhood and as an adult. Events that can never compare to the Holocaust or the Islamic State’s behaviors but which nonetheless left me scarred and traumatized. Events that changed my heart and my life. Yet I never asked “Where is God” throughout any of them. I held my palm out and believed that, as long as He held my hand, I wasn’t alone. I never questioned “why me?” But, the other day driving, I was overwhelmed at the kind of evil human beings are doing to other human beings. As a mother, there is nothing in this world I would not do to prevent my daughters from being harmed. And if I could not prevent it, I would need more than my hand held. The mothers and fathers running without food to save the lives of their children need more.
I don’t have an earth shattering, miraculous explanation. I can’t physically see Him as I can see the people on the news. But I do know that God is near me. I know He still holds my hand. Rainbows still appear after every storm. The ocean still makes me feel small. When I go to church, I still find myself comforted by the thousands who are united with me in beliefs and values. For years, I have taken real comfort in nature. Ever since my oldest daughter was born, I have consciously trained myself to remember upon seeing it that flowers are amazing, that sunrises are more than Science can explain; the colors soothe and console. I remind myself of how bright the Sun is, of how pearls and other precious stones are made naturally. The animals that all seem to work as if trained: birds know when to fly South (and in what direction South is!). They take the same route every year. The Northern Lights. In an age of electronics, children are still fascinated and awed by watching ducks swim. I have found God through writing and through music, through praying and reading the Bible. And I have found Him in other people. Once, when I was brokenhearted, a stranger held a door open for me. He changed my life. Once, I met a homeless man who was genuinely happier than I was at the time. He changed me. I have two little girls who remind me what innocence is. They have changed me. I remember how, after 9/11, I stood in line with dozens of others to give blood. It wasn’t much but we knew we were all hurting and our hearts were stirred and united. God was in those lines.
I’ve been a little overwhelmed at the sheer evil in the Middle East. If there has been one thing I’ve fought for my whole life, it would be peace. Yet, the battle has to be waged. People have to be given the chance to see that God is a personable one, that what He wants is a unique, intimate relationship with each of us. But, then. Once the battle is over, He will come and He will reign over 1,000 years of peace like we have not known before.
It doesn’t make it okay that those little girls and boys are dying. It doesn’t make a whole host of things fair. The Islamic State is unspeakable. But the bravery and courage of those Christians who are being so viciously attacked emboldens and warms my heart. Whatever I am going through, my children are safe and we can still freely go to church. Should the day come when American Christians are so persecuted, may I be as strong as those in the Middle East.
The Germans killed babies. They also killed pregnant women. And yet…
Anka was a young law student who had endured 3 concentration camps, including Auschwitz, and was starving to death. She was also secretly pregnant. After a horrifying and traumatic train ride, she arrived at Mathausen. Mathausen was a death camp. It was on the train that she went into labor. She made it off the train and hid in the barracks. On any other day, Anka and her newborn baby girl, Eva, would have been immediately put to death. But it was April 29, 1945. The Nazis had dismantled the gas chambers the day before, on April 28, and were abandoning the camp due to coming Allied forces. Anka hid, too starved to feed her newborn, until Americans liberated the camp, rescuing Anka and her newborn. Both survived.
Revelations 21:4 provides a rock for me to stand on, a reminder that God is in my life everytime I seek Him and offers a promise for me to cling to:
He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or crying or pain for the old order of things has passed away.