A Lesson Before Going on the Air: Regret, Empathy, and Rescue

STL Public RadioIt 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.

Bosnian Cemetary editedOf 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

 

When Perseverance Ends in Disappointment

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She has fire in her heart.

Some call her competitive, but the longing in her eye seems deeper than wanting to win. The intensity of purpose and the drive to get there — I watch her up close and I study from afar, and I wonder exactly where God will take her with all of this.

But she does like to win.

She once finished 12th out of about 200 runners, and it pained her to not be in the top 10. So she trained by herself after school and brought her ache to the next race. She started out strong — so strong I wondered if her speed would hurt her in the end. But as the two-miles unfolded, it was clear our daughter was the girl in first place.

It was an odd race, for it was co-ed. In all the other middle school cross country meets, the guys and girls ran separately — two races during the one meet. But this day they ran together. I assumed it was simply to be efficient. I assumed it was still really two races going on at the same time with all the runners just woven together.

Assumptions are hard.

As she neared the finish line, I let my heart start to celebrate. “She’s going to be thrilled,” I thought. “She showed up. She didn’t choke on past disappointment. She really is going to win that blue ribbon.”

As she crossed the finish line, a woman handed my girl a tiny square of paper, her place number. She glanced down, chest heaving deep, and crumpled it up. “Is she trying to be humble? Why isn’t she celebrating?”

I moved toward her and was met with a blank face.

“I got 24th,” she said through a clenched jaw.

And indeed she had. I opened the tiny paper, and 24 was written unashamedly in black marker. It was a confusing moment. I went from self-restraint (not wanting to celebrate too early)… to silent, internal cheers… to greeting her with joy… to figuring out how to comfort — all in a matter of two minutes.

We thought she was winning the whole time, for we could only see boys ahead of her. But the runners we ignored suddenly had meaning. They were the ones winning, and we didn’t know. They were her competitors, and we were completely unaware.

All that mental toughness between this race and the last — all the physical endurance of the last two miles — was any of it worth it now?


Have you been there?

Have you moved forward with determination despite resistance? Even when circumstances whispered unanswered questions and you doubted yourself to the core? Have you been running “your race with endurance” only for the story to end wrong?

I’ve seen marriages broken and children wandering and illness that ends in death and unfulfilled job searches and empty cradles after in vitro. I’ve seen re-addiction after recovery and unraveling after remission and disappointment after promises. I’ve seen perseverance end with threats of insecurity and doubt and self-loathing and disunity.

Have you seen that, too?

The disappointment that comes after a long season of perseverance is sometimes harder than tragedy that takes you by surprise. Our expectations get high, too high, and we believe there’s eventually victory for the one with enough grit.


As quickly as our joy unraveled, I heard Him say, “This is about so much more than a race. This is hardly about running at all.” I knew her Maker was right, but I didn’t like His story for our family in that moment. I would have written my daughter’s page differently that day.

“But she persevered, Lord. And she worked so hard. And she hoped.

Maybe those moments — maybe our moments — are really about something else:
… Finding my identity in what Christ did for me on the cross. Period. Instead of achievements.
… Knowing I am loved deeply regardless of what number is scribbled on my place paper.
… Believing the lesson that striving leaves me empty.
… Growing trust instead of resentment.


I ache for the Sutherland Springs community: The loved ones grieving with empty arms… The little ones asking “Why?”… The grandmas and dads and those stuck in mid-life asking “Why” and having no answer to offer themselves… The silence and the forever night.

I wonder if any of the 26 victims were in a season of perseverance before death disrupted their hope. Was anyone battling cancer? Were any digging deep in their hearts to rebuild their marriages? Were any kids enrolled in tutoring to satisfy grade-level standards? What were they all enduring? I’m certain — because I know we live in brokenness — I’m certain some had to have been gathering up courage every day, clinging to a hope we can’t explain. And their perseverance was met with… oh why, Lord?

What now, God?

What now for the hundreds of people who knew them well and loved them through their frail, brave humanity? What now for those left behind facing their own seasons of perseverance?

Hope does not disappoint us… God, help me believe you.


“You keep track of all my sorrows.
    You have collected all my tears in your bottle.
    You have recorded each one in your book.” Psalm 56:8 NLT

I see You’re writing a story with our tears, God. Help us reconcile the confusion. Weave in trust if reconciliation never comes.

“I waited a long time for the Eternal;
    He finally knelt down to hear me.
    He listened to my weak and whispered cry.
He reached down and drew me
    from the deep, dark hole where I was stranded, mired in the muck and clay.
    With a gentle hand, He pulled me out
To set me down safely on a warm rock;
    He held me until I was steady enough to continue the journey again. Psalm 40:1-2

 

Photo by Terry French