The pictures are slashing new rips in my heart. To be fair, there are lots of things that rend my heart: death, betrayal, child abuse, spousal abuse, poverty, cancer…
But the photos of children and families in Aleppo, Syria, are a fresh anguish.
They’ve invaded my psyche for many months and I can’t shelve or escape them. Early yesterday morning, they raged a new battle and I collapsed, sobbing, over my cup of coffee at the kitchen table.
I’ve been paying attention to Aleppo. But in just the last 48 hours I have been assaulted multiple times with new pictures and updates and testimonies. It started with a horror story on TV that I just happened to glance at during a 15-minute wait at the car dealership. Next came an email from author Anne Voskamp about a little girl who somehow—miraculously—made it with her family from Aleppo to Anne’s small Midwest farm town, along with pictures of the innocent child wrapped in the arms of Anne’s young daughter. That was followed by a news interview about Aleppo with Franklin Graham. Then, two nights ago, I saw the tweets by Aleppo residents saying farewell to their loved ones and the world as violent death neared their doors.
Saying farewell. Forever. To everyone. Including all of us sitting in our prettily decorated homes with all the presents under the trees and pantries filled with party food and sharing the “stress” of holiday preparations with our friends every chance we get.
As I wept, I tried to explain my emotional collapse to my startled husband who was standing innocently at the counter making breakfast. I had started praying specifically for the children of Aleppo a while ago, and have donated to organizations helping rescue people from the evil that has completely overtaken their once gentle city. I was awakened this morning by the super moon blazing in my bedroom window and prayed again in the predawn hours.
But when I got up yesterday and read a news blog saying the cease-fire was already over, I was undone.
I had nothing. This morning, I felt the weight of utter helplessness.
I don’t blame God for allowing the earthly hell that has enveloped the people of Aleppo. Selfless, greedy, evil humans are the reason for what is happening in Aleppo.
God is the answer.
I got up and gathered my Bible and I let it fall open to wherever it may, asking Him to provide some tiny scrap of comfort or, at the very least, a cease-fire for my tears.
“O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water” (Psalm 63:1, ESV).
Those poetic words describe the desperation of my heart, and of people in a war zone. But there is no promise of rescue in these words. It doesn’t say God will stop children and parents from being blown apart by the bullets and bombs of evil men. It says God is my God. Those words are the same no matter who reads them: a family huddling in a bombed-out building in Aleppo, or watching their home fly apart in a hurricane in Haiti, or standing in line at a food pantry in Chicago, or simply collapsing under too many pressures of everyday American life.
I had started praying specifically for the children of Aleppo a while ago, and have donated to organizations helping rescue people from the evil that has completely overtaken their once gentle city.
You are my God. The same promise for everyone.
“Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you. I will bless you as long as I live; in your name I will lift up my hands” (Psalm 63:3-4).
Not, “Because You will rescue me from divorce/cancer/death/war,” but because His steadfast love is better than life.
There is nothing steadfast right now in the life of any man, woman, or child living in Aleppo. Every minute, literally, brings a new nightmare. But when we have nothing on earth, we can still have God.
Apart from doing what I can from an average size city in Florida—hitting my knees and opening my wallet—I have only one source of comfort: the promises of God. To be my God and your God. To be their God. Whether they walk a hundred miles to a refugee camp or die in their home, God is promising to be their God.
Right now, in their terror, they are speechless. I will praise Him for them.
Still, my honor toward God doesn’t let me off the hook in a practical way. I cannot just say, “God, You are good and You are with them” and assume they don’t need me, that they don’t need each of us to care and help. They do. I don’t know precisely where the dollars I give to relief organizations go, but my God knows my heart, so I trust He is using them to rescue a child. Two children. A family. To provide a sleeping bag, food, medical care, and the loving and comforting arms of hope from someone from another country who is risking their own life to go into the warzone and help.
Most of us work charity into our Christmas by adopting an impoverished family, giving turkeys to food banks, or donating a little extra to our favorite nonprofit before the year closes. If you can, please stretch a little further and help a child who is still alive in Aleppo stay alive. Help a child know the promise that God is their God.
Here are three organizations I support and trust that have teams on the ground in Aleppo:
You can also pray Psalm 63 for the people of Aleppo:
My Soul Thirsts for You
A Psalm of David, when he was in the wilderness of Judah.
O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you;
my soul thirsts for you;
my flesh faints for you,
as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.
So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary,
beholding your power and glory.
Because your steadfast love is better than life,
my lips will praise you.
So I will bless you as long as I live;
in your name I will lift up my hands.
My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food,
and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips,
when I remember you upon my bed,
and meditate on you in the watches of the night;
for you have been my help,
and in the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy.
My soul clings to you;
your right hand upholds me.
But those who seek to destroy my life
shall go down into the depths of the earth;
they shall be given over to the power of the sword;
they shall be a portion for jackals.
But the king shall rejoice in God;
all who swear by him shall exult,
for the mouths of liars will be stopped.
We also recommend Taking Heart, Even When Tragedy Hits, Anatomy of a Strong Woman, How to Read Your Bible: For Beginners, and Finding Peace When Everything Is Out of Your Control
Featured image credit: Ameer Alhalbi/Agence France-Presse