Oh, friends. Has the news lately exhausted you as much as it has me?
Let’s duck into an oasis for a little while, and I’ll mention some mercies. Because there have been many in the three months since I have written to you.
In May, I completed a ghost-writing project, in which I told the stories of 26 hymns. I’m not sure which was more satisfying: chasing the stories, immersing myself in the content, or observing how adversity affected the creative process for many of these songs.
Did you know that despite her godly upbringing, hymn-writer Fanny Crosby still struggled with assurance about her spiritual condition at age 29? Isaac Watts, a poet from the previous century, was chronically ill and unable to continue pastoring or to win the heart of the woman he loved, but he could — and did — write words that made all the difference for Fanny: “Here, Lord, I give myself away; ’tis all that I can do.”
Did you know that 18th-century hymn-writer William Cowper was plagued with similar doubts? Suffering deeply from depression, and suicidal thoughts, he survived through the care of friends, and the incredible mercies of God.
In May, two dear friends came to explore the land I love so much.
In June, I boarded a home-bound plane. Why? Well, years’ worth of faith had coalesced into one great big, busy-making answer to prayer: my sister’s wedding.
How does it feel to marry off a second younger sister in the space of just ten months?
God’s great kindness, don’t you think? To have a front-row spot as the maid of honor and want to throw my sister’s bouquet in the air because whee! He did it!
On the afternoon of July 8, I was making a huge batch of hummus for the wedding when my social media lit up with news from Israel. Sirens were sounding in Jerusalem. It was after 10 pm, there, as my friends bundled their children out of bed, and rushed to shelters, where they chatted with their neighbors in their pajamas, waiting for the all-clear.
The next day, and for days after that, was more of the same: rockets falling on places where I never thought they’d fall. Places I know; places I’ve been. Sure, there’s a steady, deadly rain in the southern cities, closest to Gaza, where I’ve seen the concrete bus stops that double as bunkers. But shrapnel on the central bus station in Jerusalem? More rockets intercepted over Tel Aviv?
It’s like imagining it happening in Atlanta or Boston or New York.
Can I explain the feeling that took up residence in my stomach, in my heart? A hollowness. A twisting. An ache. A keening. “Dear Lord, how long?”
Can you blame me if I prayed, and dived back into the joy of my sister’s wedding? That I retreated, for weeks after that, into book after book?
Here in America we have the luxury of not understanding the complexity that is the Middle East. We have the luxury of feeling far away. In fact, a funny thing happens when I’m on this side of the Atlantic: the cries to “Wake up!” sound a little silly. A little conspiracy theory-ish, don’t you think? Even forty miles away from Gaza, in Jerusalem, it’s easy to believe: “Rockets will never rain down here.”
But God’s great (and terrifying) mercy to Israelis and Gazans ground under the heel of Hamas, to Christians in Syria and Iraq and Sudan and China and North Korea, to your own neighbors in trauma units and cancer wards is this: they are awake.
If they care to, they can see. They have front-row seats to it all: The breathtakingly ruthless face of evil. The mind-boggling brokenness of this earth. The JOY for which Jesus endured the cross. A joy which can be theirs as well.
I see mercies in Israel. Severe and tender mercies: three teenaged boys, captured in June, discovered dead 18 days later. One nation, forged in loving them. A hunt for kidnappers that culminates in the discovery of plans (and tunnels) in Gaza that have been years in the making, and meant for mass kidnappings and invasion — this September.
Listen, I’ve pulled my head out of the sand. I spent hours researching these things, and it was almost too much. I almost gave up on writing these things to you.
But for the mercies. Small ones that are huge. Like being able to help my youngest sister start a business, because I’m not on the other side of the ocean; I’m here. Like getting to know my three-year-old nephew: reading, building, splashing, or chasing him in nearly endless circles, because that’s what brings him joy.
These things melt my heart. They are not just mercies — they are God’s tender mercies, personalized to me. I see them here, and I know they are across the ocean too.
Won’t you pray with me that we’ll all have eyes (and hearts) to see — severe or tender — here or there — God’s many, many mercies?