It was already a busy week, but this was an opportunity I just couldn’t pass up.
Through her school, my daughter submitted a story last year to The Grannie Annie, a foundation that inspires students to give their family stories a voice. Her great-grandfather rode the Orphan Train from New York City to a Kansas farm, and Kharis had recorded the loneliness and fear of what a child might have felt on that ride. “Abandoned” was selected to be published in Grannie Annie, Volume 12, and we went to cheer her on when she read it at the 2017 Family Stories Festival held at the Missouri History Museum.
It was quite an experience for Kharis in June of 2017, but the opportunity grew even larger last week — Thanksgiving week. We would be hosting 10 relatives and three dogs for a few nights, but when I got a phone call last Monday inviting Kharis and I to appear on St. Louis Public Radio with a co-founder of the Grannie Annie, of course I said, “yes.”
We were to be in the studio at noon on Wednesday but were told a breaking news story could possibly delay our segment until 12:20pm. News story? I search my memory but couldn’t think of any possible breaking stories in St. Louis. I was quickly consumed again with cooking and prepping and making our house feel like a home for out-of-town family members.
On Wednesday morning, the station informed me they would indeed be delaying our interview due to covering the Ratko Mladic conviction. Ratko Mladic? I quickly googled the name and discovered he was a general responsible for the genocide in Bosnia back in the 90’s. The ethnically rooted war spanned almost three years in Bosnia and Herzegovina, a former republic of Yugoslavia with a multiethnic population comprising Bosniaks (Bosnian Muslims), Serbs, and Croats. Mladic, the “Butcher of Bosnia”, was responsible for the deaths of 7,000-8,000 male Bosniaks in two days, and on November 22, 2017, he was convicted over twenty years later.
Of course our interview would be delayed — St. Louis is home to the highest population of Bosnians outside of Bosnia. After living in South St. Louis during 2001-2005, I experienced this melting pot first hand. Our neighbors across the street were Bosnian, and their preschool-age girls would interpret for us. My hairstylist was Bosnian, too. She had given my now teenage son his first haircut as a toddler.
I was in my late-twenties, and I was consumed with being first-time homeowners and starting our family. Both of our kids were born when we were living in that adorable brick house with the arched front door. I was trying my best to be an incredible mom, leaving only enough energy and passion to be an adequate neighbor. I remember being so tired those years as I cared for my baby and toddler. My fatigue brought self-absorption, for I interacted with my neighbors — American, Bosnian, Albanian, and more — only when it was convenient for me. I even later carried this worldview and lifestyle to the suburbs.
If you’ve read Repurposed for a while or know me personally, you know I choke on regret often. I surrender this pattern to the Lord over and over, and I promise, I really do believe the Holy Spirit brings healing as He reminds us “there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1 NIV) But the Lord does convict also, sometimes gently, and my heart began to break as “breaking news” surfaced.
We arrived at St. Louis Public Radio and were escorted to a small waiting room, separated from the actual studio by a glass wall. A woman was seated and smiled ever so slightly before we were introduced. As she spoke, it was obvious — she was from Bosnia and would be soon reliving her family’s trauma to thousands of listeners. Yes, she was there to respond to Mladic’s conviction and the genocide that stole her cousin’s life. Her studio companion revealed on the air he had lost his dad, grandpa, uncle, and cousin to Mladic.
Just moments ago, I was reminding my daughter to speak in complete sentences while on the air. And now I was silent.
We heard everything the listeners heard that day, but we could see the guests in front of their microphones through the glass. They spoke of the pain that lingered despite Mladic’s conviction. They referenced an entire population of Bosnians suffering with PTSD and the impact it’s having on a younger generation being raised by those parents. They spoke of trauma and mental illness and coping mechanisms like keeping busy.
They were right there across the street, and I shut myself in my Tudor bungalow with my babies…
Did my neighbors sleep at night?
Who had my stylist lost in the war? When our chit-chat paused, what was she thinking about as she cut my hair in that salon?
Just recently, I wrote about the importance of looking around instead of gazing ahead. Oh, to go back fifteen years and look beyond my four walls and around at my world — oh, to have engaged with that community of Bosnians. I knew about a war. I knew about their ravaged cities. I was kind, but I lacked empathy. I was consumed with stretching our one income, and getting my son and daughter on sleep schedules, and introducing the right baby foods to my kids at just the right time. I ignored the battle of my neighbors’ hearts and failed to reflect on their ravaged lives.
And there they were behind that glass, speaking of brokenness but sounding so strong. Alluding honestly to pain while attesting to moving forward. Referencing loss and grief and wrapping themselves in a vulnerability that was beyond anything I had ever dared.
I think of my King, my Protector, who Himself became a refugee at the age of two while fleeing from a ruler’s massacre. He escaped Herod’s insane wrath only to hang on a cross 31 years later. He’s the One who wrapped Himself in my shame and desolation and sacrificed Himself to rescue me.
And I am the one trying to hold together brokenness, but He’s holding out strength. I’m the one with pain unspoken, but He beckons me on and reaches for me, lifting me out of myself when I just can’t move forward. I’m the one replaying loss and grief, but He bottles up my tears and washes me into wholeness. (2 Cor 12:9, Ps 40:1-2, Ps 56:8)
All of it — it all lays in the shadow of the One who offers abundance.
The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that
they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly. John 10:10 NKJV
God, open my eyes to the fullness You’re holding out. And open my heart to the stories that come with the people I interact with every day. Send grace to me, the one who follows You but fails to mirror You so often.
I love how He works. The last-minute invitation to be interviewed on the air, the re-lived joy over my daughter’s published article — my Maker’s story for me that day was so much bigger than our own experiences. He does it for all of us — He invites us all into a something bigger than ourselves and our own dramas. He sends perspective just when we get a bit too inward, calling us to more.
He rescues us from ourselves.
Photo by Dimitar Dilkoff via WikiTribune