Just over a week ago a series of coordinated terrorist attacks in Paris, France claimed the lives of 130 people.
They were the result of hate and bigotry on the part of Islamic extremists operating under the flag of ISIS, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.
There is, without a doubt, no justification for such vicious actions. Those who perpetrate them like to call themselves soldiers in a war against what they see as Western tyranny and evil; but they do not deserve the title of soldier. They are cowards who fight those who cannot fight back. They strike the innocent and unarmed yet preen themselves on the magnificence of their bravery.
They disgust and horrify me in their depravity and lack of humanity.
Alongside the horror is a terrible grief. An overwhelming sorrow for the lost and deadened lives such people live that they would have so little human kindness in their souls. To know that they have been so trained in hate that there is no love left in their hearts. What an empty life to live.
As the discussions have flown around homes, communities, and social media a sad phenomenon has occurred. The people I know and call friend have been aligning themselves on sides. Sides that try to out-shout each other in their cries of “for” and “against”. But, it is WHAT they are fighting over that confuses me. They are fighting over whether or not they are “for” or “against” helping the refugees that have been displaced and driven from their homes by these brutal ISIS terrorists.
We are not aligning ourselves against the perpetrators of terrorist attacks, we are fighting among ourselves over who we should or shouldn’t offer refuge to as the war of our era rages on around the world.
For some reason I have surprised many people with my views on this subject. I’m not sure why. It’s not out of the ordinary for me. I have been very vocal in my support of helping the refugees, of relocating many of them here to our own county because they no longer have a country of their own. I have made it clear that I believe not helping the majority of the refugees because a few might have evil intentions is a response to their need based on fear. While the fear is not unfounded I believe we are a better people than that. I believe we should base our decision to help on courage and compassion rather than living in fear. This belief does not imply a naivete to the risk this action poses. It is a belief that requires a great deal of courage on our part.
I can pinpoint the exact day when my current view of the world evolved and the experience that opened my heart and mind to others and their suffering.
I wrote about it in my book “Walking My Father’s Fields” which you can purchase here:
This is an excerpt of the day that changed my worldview:
The Love of Family
Principle #24: We all belong to one another
“It was a beautiful Indian summer day in northwest Missouri that September when I drove William into town to Doc and his wife Joan’s office. Doc did the vet work, and Joan took care of the books and customers. I drove over to my Mom’s house with Ezekiel and Ephraim to visit. We sat at her kitchen table while the early morning sun filtered in through white Battenberg lace curtains and cobalt blue glass figurines and talked about my sister-in-law Joy’s harvest party coming up in October. The boys were playing with building blocks in Grandma’s play room; it was a simple, pleasant morning.
Then Aaron called. He knew Mom and Dad didn’t have cable or satellite TV, so he said, “Mom, you need to turn on your radio. A plane just flew into the World Trade Center.” She handed me the phone and raced over to her kitchen counter to flip on the old radio. Every network was talking about it.
I asked Aaron to repeat again what was happening and he said, “They don’t know who it was but someone flew a plane into the World Trade Center in New York.” My mind couldn’t wrap around it. I think I asked, “On purpose? It wasn’t just some horrible, freak accident?”
“No,” he scoffed grimly, “It wasn’t an accident.”
“How did they get an empty plane into New York airspace, right into the city like that?” I asked.
“It wasn’t empty. They hijacked it.”
I think I handed the phone back to mom then. Not empty? I shuddered. How many people? I wondered. How many survivors? We didn’t know about the second plane yet, we didn’t know about the collapse of the towers. All I could think of was the plane.
William finished work early that day; I told him what I knew while I drove him up to his parents’ farm, eight miles from our little house in Denver, Missouri. We watched videos on the TV of New York City. We saw the planes hit the towers again and again and again and again. Each time it was like a new wound. We saw the towers collapse and the gray dust and rubble cloud cover the city streets. As videos from amateur photographers emerged, we watched the same horror with new eyes.
William drove himself to work the next day while I sat, safe and warm on my couch, watching the war zone that New York had become. I watched as images of the Pentagon emerged, as a field in Pennsylvania appeared with a giant black scar on the farm fields marking where flight 93 had crashed.
And again all I could think of were the planes.
I imagined myself on those planes. The networks showed pictures of the passengers and I wondered what would I have done if I had been one of them? If my child was sitting beside me and I knew we were flying to our death, what would I say? How would I comfort my child?
And suddenly, as I sat there contemplating the unimaginable and the terribly real, I was seized by an emotion I had never really felt before…hate. I had never known before that moment what it was to really hate another human being.
I hated, with an almost perfect passion, the men who had calmly looked into the eyes of their fellow passengers and then willingly murdered them. The hate was so huge it burgeoned up inside me like a bomb. It made my skin sensitive to touch, my ears attuned to more sound, and my heart cold. It wasn’t enough that their bodies were disintegrated in the fire and buried beneath thousands of pounds of concrete and rebar. I wanted them to suffer more than death; I wanted them to know a greater torment. Hell was not even enough for me. I wanted them to be cast down past even the burn of the fires of brimstone to where they could rot in the cold and empty silence of nothingness, where they could exist in nothing but the horror of their own barbarism, cruelty, and damnation.
For hours and hours I could feel nothing but that all consuming hatred. I fed my children, I changed diapers, I started dinner, but I couldn’t move my heart past the cold of my emotions. Finally I sat, with my children spread at my feet, watching it again and again and again. I don’t think I realized I was weeping until Ezekiel put his little hands on my face and said, “Mommy, why are you crying?” I told him, as simply as I could that some very bad men had flown some planes into the buildings and that I was crying because so many people had died.
“Why did they do it Mommy?” he asked.
I had no answer for him and none for myself so I just pulled him to me and hugged him until he squirmed away to go play with his blocks. His tender, baby boy hug calmed the hate inside, but I could still feel it threatening to overcome me. It drove me to my knees, and I pleaded with God to take it away, to remove the hate from my heart.
I believe in God. I believe in His active participation in my life. There have been too many miracles and moments of transcendent beauty and strength in my life to deny Him. This was one of them.
As I knelt there on the floor of my living room, my two sons playing beside me, pleading with the God of the universe to take the hate from my heart, I felt something shift inside my soul. I have discovered over a lifetime of praying, seeking, listening, and receiving answers that God doesn’t just take things away. He replaces with something else. He doesn’t exist in or create vacuums and voids in our lives. He replaces, fills, compensates, and redeems.
I didn’t know it but that is what I was pleading for: redemption. And it came, as surely as sunrise and seasons, and was as painful as birth. Because in removing the hate from my heart, He replaced it with something else. Something I had felt twice before, only now it was deeper, richer, and more encompassing than I thought possible. It was painful to grow and to accept what He wanted to give me—to accept a parent’s love.
At once, unbidden and clear the images of those planes filled my mind only now they were sharper and a terrible love filled me with joy and an aching sorrow. In the clarity of that moment a thought, both beautiful and agonizing entered my heart. It spoke to my mind words that changed me forever. “All of the people on that plane were my children. All are my sons and daughters. All have need of my love and mercy. Forgive, for your sake. How much more need of forgiveness have my children who wound their brothers and sisters willingly? Whom would you have me deny?”
All I could think in response was “None.” Somewhere in the Middle East there was another mother kneeling in prayer, seeking comfort in her loss; in England, New York, Japan, Australia, California, Mexico, Brazil, Kenya, China, and all over the world mothers were seeking comfort and peace in a world overrun with enough hate to fill an ocean. I couldn’t bear to add one more drop. There were already enough hearts given over to the cold nothingness of hate, revenge, and terror. I didn’t need to be another one.
Love, compassion, sorrow, and forgiveness swamped me. I trembled with the intensity and pulled myself up to the couch where I wept out my broken and newly bandaged heart. Ephraim crawled over and I picked him up to rock and feed him. Ezekiel climbed next to me and patted me on the shoulder.
I wept and wondered at the easy love between my sons, two brothers who had been friends all their short lives. From his first view of him in the hospital bassinet Ezekiel had cried out “It’s Ephy!” as if he had just been waiting for his best friend to arrive. I thought of the troubled relationships of adult siblings, marred by anxiety, loneliness, resentment, and envy. I thought of parents who, no matter how old or young, worried over their children and choices they knew would lead to unhappiness and heartbreak, knowing every child must make their own decisions regardless.
My definition of family changed that day, and I was no longer just the youngest of twelve, or the last of the big parade. I was a daughter of the divine, a sister to the noble, a mother of heroes. I was also the daughter of transgression, the sister of fear, the mother of want and need. I was no more and no less than one part of a tremendous whole, and I had a role to play on this stage of my existence.
I had to choose.
In the end that was the answer to my prayer. God forced nothing upon me, because He never does. He simply allowed me to see the two paths before me and let me choose. Anger, hate, and a frozen heart or love, forgiveness, and a broken heart. There was no easy choice, there never is, but there was, for me, a correct one. I chose to love my family.
All of them.
Not just the ones that think like me, or look like me, or believe all the same things. I had been well taught after all, by my own parents, that we are a family because we choose to be.
Every day we live we are given the opportunity again to love our brothers and our sisters, to look past perceived differences to what makes us the same in our hearts. We all hope for a better world for our children, we all search for love and comfort, we all strive to find meaning in our day to day labors. Each new day we are again shown our two paths—love and life or hate and death. We walk in the paths our parents have shown us. We forge new ones that lead us to greater understanding and peace. We seek to know our legacy and either live up to or overcome it. We do the work required to ensure that our name is synonymous with generosity of spirit. We choose our place; and when we have chosen, we reach out to our neighbors, to those we come in contact with to build our family, our community, our world.
There is a need in the world for family. There is enough and to spare of violence, bitterness, and condemnation. It can be hard to stand in an angry mob and be a voice of courtesy, charity, and conviction. Hard because it is difficult for some to understand that peace is not passivity and that humility is not weakness. It is hard for some to understand that standing up for your personal truth does not equal a lack of consideration for theirs. It takes many voices to make a choir, each member singing their own part. An orchestra is richer for its diversity of sound—the melody, harmony, major, and minor notes all blending into a magnificent work of art.
The God that filled my heart with mercy on a beautiful late summer day in the middle of America made a world full of differences—mountains and valleys, deserts and seas, farmlands and forests. Opposites and opposition exist in the world, and all we can do is choose for ourselves.
I look at my brothers and my sisters, some that share no common blood with me, and I see only hearts that love as I love and hands that labor to do good. The differences are lost in the depth of feeling we share with one another. We draw no lines in the sand that separate us. We have our differences and disputes but we draw a circle of love that welcomes everyone in to the warmth of family.
I look around me at the people I do not know, at the family I haven’t met yet, and I feel the yearning to draw them in, to know them better, to welcome them home to my heart so they will know they are loved, they will know that they belong. Because in the end we all belong to one another.”