Soundlessly, she sat beside us, crying as her sister Sammi told her tale. “A European couple offered me a job nannying their children,” she said. “But then they decided that they want someone else, someone who does not wear a headscarf.”
Sammi spoke in a matter-of-fact voice, like the entire affair was of no consequence. However, we all knew that this had been the kind of opportunity that does not come often– and that the reason it was rescinded appeared to be flat-out discrimination. My mouth fell open and then filled with words like that’s horrible and they have no idea what an amazing person they are missing. Sammi’s sister’s eyes simply filled with silent tears.
Sammi shook her head. “Don’t cry,” she commanded in English, as if using their second language would make them both feel stronger. Her sister had completed Young Leaders before I arrived in the Middle East; through that program, they had connected with our community center, and eventually I had met them and they had accepted me into their family.
Now 18 years old, this youngest sister dreams of skydiving, passing her final exams for high school next month, and working toward a psychology degree. Her compassion is the size of Saudi Arabia, and more precious than all the oil it contains.
I stopped speaking. I wrapped my arms around her and prayed inside that God would wrap His arms around her gentle soul.
Dana knows what it is like to experience deep suffering. And great joy. And pain, brokenness, loyalty, and love. She is known as a woman of wisdom, and is the giver of some of the best hugs I have received while in the Middle East.
I came to work late one day– in the middle of a busy couple of months, when the weekends were full of Young Leaders events and the days seemed long– to good-natured joking from some of my coworkers. “You should look more rested, after you took the morning off. You still look tired!”
I laughed with them, saying I was much refreshed, since I had spent the morning quietly relaxing, reading, and sleeping.
Dana, however, eyed me carefully. “You look more than tired. There is something else– what is it, really?”
Later that day, I found Dana alone and sat down beside her. “There is something else,” I said, quietly. “Don’t know how, but you see what other people don’t see. I did spend some of my morning resting, and did eventually feel refreshed, but first there were tears…”
She listened as I explained why. Then she wrapped her arms around me. She told me she would pray and reminded me of the goodness of God.
I told her that when she put her arms around me, when she said that she could see me, I knew His eyes were on me also.
Sammi and I sat in the car with the windows rolled down, sweating as we longed for a breeze and waited for her sister to emerge from the house. A four-year-old boy started to walk in front of us, talking to no one that we could see, and swinging an empty, pink-stained paint bucket. We smiled at each other, happily distracted from the heat to wonder at the little guy’s chatter, and his choice of toys.
He noticed us and went immediately to Sammi’s side of the car. He extended his hand to shake– while I suppressed my surprise and wondered if this kid’s culture had ever taught him to be cautious with strangers– and she politely took it, asking his name.
His answer was unintelligible, but she established that he lives in her neighborhood. Then he said, in a voice just as matter-of-fact as Sammi’s own had been about the recent job opportunity lost:
“Do you know the news about my sister? She’s dead.”
She kept her voice normal and asked what had happened. “We gave her medicine, and we shook her like this, but she never got out of bed.”
“When?” He didn’t know. As he wandered around the car to my side, Sammi told me, “He has a Syrian accent.”
I shook his hand. Where are you from? “Homs.” The fallen capital of the Syrian revolution, some would say, but to him it is simply home. He told us then that his favorite food is cake. His favorite color is blue. And then Sammi’s sister arrived, and we left.
Our arms waved goodbye. But in our hearts, we held him.
His eyes are on us.
When injustice slaps beloved friends. When delayed hope sickens hearts. When shells echo in a four-year-old’s mind.
Sometimes we extend His love to each other with a hug, a word, a hearing of each others’ tales. Sometimes we feel that love straight from the heart of the Father.
But even when we can’t see, when circumstances steal our eyes from His, He wants us to know He is present.
His arms are extended.
And He sees.