I am taking a little digression away from the original intent of this blog. My heart is so heavy tonight, and the only thing I can do, aside from praying, is to write about it. As I write this, I’m high above the earth, at 30,000 feet, comfy in my first class seat, on my way home from a business trip to New York City. It’s so calm up here. So unusually quiet and still. Ordinarily, I fall asleep, almost against my will, as soon as I buckle myself in. I barely realize when we’ve taken off and landed. After years of business travel, I think my subconscious has developed a special brand of narcolepsy to make the arduous process of flying just a little bit less unpleasant. Tonight, I can’t sleep.
Most of you are likely aware of the cruel murder yesterday of a US journalist, James Foley, by the terrorist organization ISIS. An unspeakable, unimaginable, horrifically brutal murder.
Everywhere I turned while I was in New York, there was a newsstand projecting the image of this innocent young man, clad in orange, his hands bound, with an air of steely determination in his strong jaw, but a look of abject, raw and heartbreaking fear in his eyes. Next to him, brandishing a knife in some of the pictures (a knife that I can’t stop myself from thinking would not deliver a swift beheading, but rather a slow, agonizing death), stands a coward. A coward who can’t show his face. Instead he dresses like some sort of Arab Power Ranger, only his eyes showing. Even in the grainiest of photographs, the hate in his eyes—the sheer animalistic malice is evident. What shocks me most about these photos is the stark contrast; good versus evil—side by side, but with the outcome already known. Evil wins.
How is that possible? How, in my comfortable, middle-class, Superman, Desert Storm, American reality can that be possible? Don’t get me wrong. I know that there is evil in the world. There is a great deal of evil in America. There is likely a fair amount of evil on this plane. I am not adept at wrapping my head around the sad trajectory of the human race as a whole, but yesterday’s brutal event has forced the reality of it upon me. Time to wake up. I have five children, whom I love with every fiber of my being. Four of them are boys. As I sat in JFK and watched clips of the interview of James Foley’s parents, it wasn’t hard to imagine if what happened yesterday happened to one of my boys (or my daughter, for that matter—if any of them is likely to go across the globe in the name of adventure, journalism and bettering the human race, it’s her). How I would feel. What I would say. Could I even find words? The grief in the Foleys’ voices was evident. I felt like an intruder listening to parts of it–in a place I shouldn’t be. Lurking somewhere that is private to parents who have lost children. A place that I pray to God with all my heart that I never have to go.
Grief wasn’t all I heard though. I heard love. So much love for their “little boy” as his mother referred to him, and as I will always refer to my sons, no matter what their age. I also heard pride for what he believed in and how he lived. What stood out to me the most though, was resilience. They stood there, in all of their grief, and they defied the idea that evil is going to win in the end. In the aftermath of the most horrific thing that could happen to them as parents, they chose to defy the power of evil in this world and focus on the beautiful life of their son.
I have been tragically behind on my Bible reading the last couple of weeks, so I brought my Bible with me on this trip, vowing to make up for my absence and to get back on track. As I was reading tonight, missing my family, and trying to unsee the images from every television and newsstand, my heart was crying out for some sort of encouragement. Something to hold onto in these days when everything feels so uncertain and so cruel. My head is spinning with all that is happening in Israel, in Iraq, in Syria, in Ferguson, in Africa…it’s too much to take in, but I can’t stop myself from obsessing over it.
So what do you do when you can’t look away? When you can’t stop taking in the horror of it all, but you feel helpless to make any difference. When you worry every day about the safety of your children and your friends and family, fearing that terror could again strike close to home, as it did on 9/11. When your heart is breaking for people you don’t even know and will never meet. What can you do? You pray, but more importantly, you pray with faith, believing that God already knows the outcome of every tragedy and injustice, and that evil does not win.
One of the passages that I was scheduled to turn to today is Psalm 55. It’s as if God chose this day, when I was feeling so overwhelmed, as distant as I am from the atrocities happening across the world, to speak the exact words I needed to hear. “My heart is in anguish within me; the terrors of death assail me. Fear and trembling have beset me; horror has overwhelmed me (Psalm 55:4-5).” But that’s not where it ends! The writer says: “But I call out to God, and the Lord saves me. Evening, morning and noon I cry out in distress, and he hears my voice…cast your cares on the Lord and he will sustain you; He will never let the righteous fall. But you, O God, will bring down the wicked into the pit of corruption; bloodthirsty and deceitful men will not live out half their days. But as for me, I trust in you (Psalm 55:16-23).”
Evil does not win.
I encourage you to cling to that promise. I will, every time fear creeps back into my heart.
Dear Father, I pray tonight for the family of James Foley and for all those who loved him. I pray for Steven Sotloff. Put your hand of protection on him and deliver him from harm, if it’s your will. I pray for our administration, that they will make courageous decisions to fight the evil that is arrogant enough to believe that it will prevail. I am choosing to believe your promises, Lord that you will bring down the wicked and protect your children. Thank you for hearing our prayers and forgiving our fear and doubt. Amen.