But Then A Light
Ceci and I have been blessed with two beautiful daughters. They are both wonderful ladies and make us proud. Today’s post comes from our daughter, Hannah (Magness); tomorrow’s is co-written by Sarah (Weinberg) and me, and will include communion. As we look this week at the power of generational synergy and legacy, I trust you are being stirred, challenged and blessed.
“I’ve been a dreamer my whole life, especially of places I’ve never been and people I’ve never met. One of my favorite imagination games as a child was to take a globe and pick a random country. I’d look at its borders, the names of cities, topography, and imagine what it was like there. I’d create a grand story in my imagination about its history and the people who lived there. Then, I’d go into my dad’s library and pull out his old Encyclopedia Britannica books, thumb through to find that country, and read what it had to say. Was I usually close? Not at all. But still, I never tired of this game. Because imagining the country, and then reading about it, was like getting to meet it twice. Now that I’ve made a career working in some of those countries I used to dream about, I’ve met them again.
“Meeting these lands has been more beautiful and challenging and sacred than I ever imagined it to be as a child. I’ve learned more about the similarities we share across humanity. And the differences used as banners across culture, politics, and religion. When I was 18, I had an imagination meets education meets reality moment the first time I went to the Middle East. I quickly knew that these nations were somehow in my heart, before ever visiting. I arrived to find purpose had gone before me.
“Now, several years later, I work in the Middle East running a nonprofit organization. I’ve had the privilege of meeting these nations over and over again. Their light and their dark. Their joy and their pain. I’d like to share one of those stories with you today. This particular story is one I hold close to my heart. The faces and feelings it holds stay with me.
“A few years ago, our staff was doing a food and clothing distribution on a very, very cold winter day. We were in the downtown area of a city that had become a haven for Syrian refugees fleeing that country’s civil war and, later, ISIS. Our organization had long been working in this city. On distribution days, our staff often receive multiple offers to come into the homes of those we serve for a meal or a drink. Arab culture has a big focus on hospitality, so this is truly a common invitation. Most days, we are too busy to take anyone up on their hosting offer, and politely decline. On this particularly bitter-cold, rainy winter day, I said yes.
“I don’t know what was different this time and why I accepted. Maybe it was just because we were all so cold. But when we finished the distribution, we followed the kind woman Khadijah(1) up the street to her apartment. The entrance was a narrow, metal door in between street-level businesses. In we went, heading up four flights of broken cement stairs with rebar sticking out in several places, seeking the promise of a cup of tea to warm our hands.
“As soon as we reached the apartment, welcomed by Khadijah and her daughters, I knew I would never forget this day, or these faces.
“We all sat together on the cold floor, circling around a small gas heater to warm our hands, drinking tea. As we slowly warmed up, we chatted with this family. As we did, an unimaginable story began to flow out of their memories and spill from their mouths, a story of the deepest darkness, the likes of which I could never imagine. As I listened, sipping tea and trying to get warm, my heart broke. My eyes flooded and spilled over with tears. And when it seemed that the story simply couldn’t get any darker, it did.
“Pain, violence, brutality, fear, death. All of the worst kinds of stories you hear from war. Women taken advantage of, girls bought and sold like household goods, abuse of the worst kind, loss of property, loss of family, male relatives ripped from family, lives lost, and evil hunting you down. Khadijah’s story held it all.
“As I was sitting there listening to Khadijah’s story, tears kept rolling down my face. We all cried. Some of us cried and listened; others cried and remembered. I honestly didn’t know if I could take much more listening. The secondhand heartbreak alone was too much.
“But then, spoken softly in a hushed room, a light…
“When the time came that there were no options left in her home country - after the severe loss of people, places, and things - Khadijah fled in the darkness of night with her five daughters. No male relatives were left.
“The two oldest daughters carried all they could. The next two held on to the skirt of their mother’s dress. The youngest, still a baby, was held in her mother’s arms.
“Khadijah said the darkness of night was her best opportunity to flee without being caught. But it still held plenty of its own terrors and risks. For multiple nights in a row, they ran. Hiding through the day. Chasing an idea of hope that they couldn’t quite see yet.
“Even while trapped in a darkness deeper than I could have imagined, Khadijah persisted. She'd heard rumors of freedom, stories of people who fled and survived. So she chased the hope in the rumors.
“As you can probably guess, Khadijah and her daughters made it to safety. After several days of fleeing atrocities, they arrived at a border crossing and found physical safety. It was at this point that Khadijah realized the hope was more than a rumor. So, she kept chasing it all the way. All the way to a job, to an apartment, to food on the table, to a new place to call home for herself and her daughters.
“I’ll never forget the day I walked up those flights of broken steps and met a woman who reminded me of the deep resilience of humanity. Of the way, even when we seem trapped in the deepest of darkness, a pinprick of light can keep us going and lead us to a tomorrow holding hope.
“The state of our world reminds me often of Khadijah’s story. The darkness in our lives likely has different names than what she knew. But it is darkness just the same. It can seem as though darkness is all around us sometimes. When you face this in your life, I hope you remember that there is no darkness that light cannot lift. Tragedy will give way…the darkness will lift…the sun will rise.
“And if you ever find yourself without hope, chase the stories like Khadijah did. Even if they seem like rumors. Because hope isn't a rumor. It's real. My hope for you is that you will find a little more of it today.
“‘If you’re stumbling in the dark,
Run your hands against the walls
Find every window and every door
Throw them open, throw them open
It will flood a blinding light
And it will chase away the night
Even if you shield your eyes,
Let it pour in, let it pour in.’
-Lyrics from the song Gallows, by Jess Ray”(2)
Pray with me:
As we have read and heard today about searching for light and chasing hope, we pray for those endeavoring to do so. Give them strength in their weakness, relief from their pain, and the fortitude to persevere. We pray that the Khadijah’s of the world find freedom, healing and new beginnings.
And we pray that we would become the light-bearers You intend us to be. Awaken us to a deeper sense of purpose, of destiny, of being difference-makers. As we live lives that, for most of us, are comfortable and well provisioned, remind us of those who have not, and that we are called to help.
Send a worldwide revival. When nations turn to You, love replaces hate, curses are broken, and darkness flees. Strengthen and provide for those working toward this - Heart of Mercy and others like them, going to the dark places of the earth. Meet every need with abundant provision. We ask for all of this in Christ’s name, amen.
We decree that the light we carry will always overcome the darkness. Always.
Today’s post was contributed by our daughter, Hannah Magness. Hannah is the Executive Director of Heart of Mercy, a non-profit organization that provides holistic care to children and families in the Middle East on their journey out of poverty and towards a healthy and vibrant future. You can learn more about their work at HeartofMercy.global
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