I canceled the blog post I’d prepared for last Friday. I had a weekly prayer ready to publish. Then I saw the picture of Aylan Kurdi.
I just broke….
I felt irrelevant, trite, inane, meaningless – in myself and in my prayers. Swallowed by the tidal force of pain ripping across the world and how out of touch my life and words felt, I found myself paralyzed and my voice gone quiet.
There are tidal waves of tragedy rolling in every day. But this picture, this story, hit me in a deeper, more tender place, knocking me to my knees. Maybe it’s because I’m a mother now. I don’t know. But I fell apart with the dismantling challenge that amid such profound pain in our world, I flounder in the waves, unsure or unable or unwilling to pray and help in a way that feels like it makes any meaningful difference.
Is it even worth it to write these prayers about the start of a new school year or the fraying of our souls by stress when a three-year-old boy washes up on the beach?
My answer last week was no. No, it’s not.
I felt small, burning in my shame, embarrassment, anger, and sadness. And so I canceled the post.
The questions pushed my into retreat. What am I to do and write and pray? How do I honor both the mega-tragedies pouring upon the world as well as the personal (seemingly small, in comparison) things that hurt me on a daily basis but have a powerful influence on my life and outlook?
While we need to keep perspective, we also know that pain is pain, and trying to rank one person’s hurt over another’s does not invalidate the pain – it simply makes one feel ashamed for feeling her or his pain. It’s all real.
I believe God cares for the totality of our lives, weeping for whatever kind of pain we carry. And when we find ourselves speechless, the Spirit takes things from there.
At the same time, I just couldn’t find words in my floundering last week over the pictures and stories of Syrian migrants. This is why I am profoundly grateful to my dear friend, Amy Morris Williams, and her sister, Alli Morris Niebauer, for sharing with me the letter they composed for our Representatives and Senators.
They, like me, have been wrestling for a practical way to support the Syrian refugees fleeing the civil war and unrest in the Middle East. And while we can give of our own money toward organizations supporting these sisters and brothers in need (I especially recommend this one), we can also advocate for our representatives to do the same through humanitarian aid and the allotment for Syrian refugees to resettle in the United States.
Please take the time to read and use the letter they’ve drafted. You can find the contact information for your representative here. The letter is copied below. Amy and Alli included information that would be helpful to our representatives by pointing them to past pieces of legislation.
Beyond dollars, Pope Francis has also offered some ideas, asking every Catholic parish and monastery in Europe to accept one refugee family. If every parish heeded the call, between 360,000 and 500,000 refugees would find asylum and care. Perhaps we don’t live in Europe, but we can still look for ways to help refugees in our own communities.
And then there is the profound and powerful response of prayers – even when I don’t have words. Even when I’m leaning into the Spirit and asking her to groan with all Her might.
So my prayer this week is the petition of Amy and Alli. It is a cry of petition for our sisters and brothers in need. For the children.
Lord, in your mercy….
Dear Representative/Senator (Insert name):
I am writing to ask to you advocate for the alleviation of suffering of Syrian refugees, migrants, and internally displaced persons. Over the last four years, we have been flooded with news of the atrocious civil war and subsequent flight of the Syrian people in an effort to find safety. Just this past week, pictures of a drowned Syrian child surfaced in our newspapers, social media accounts and emails. If America is to maintain any credibility as a potential force for good in the world, we can no longer ignore the misery and inhumanity that these migrants are facing. I ask that as my representative, as a fellow American, and as a partner in humanity, you do the following.
- Support an increase in the allocations for the Migration and Refugee Assistance- Overseas Contingency Operations. The FY 2016 request from the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration is $819,000. This will most likely be debated in mid-September. I ask that you not only grant this, but increase it to a minimum of $1 million.
- Support an increased allocation in the Migration and Refugee Assistance program domestically for Near East refugees. The FY 2016 request is $329,400, which is actually $151,509 lower than FY 2016. I ask that you at least maintain the budget at $480,909 and if possible, increase it.
- Support the increased allocation of resettlement spots to refugees of Syrian origin. This does not mean increasing the number of Syrian refugees within the current refugee allotment. This means increasing the overall number of refugees welcomed into the United States for FY 2016. In FY 2015, the ceiling for refugees resettled from the Near East was 13,000. I ask that you double this allocation for the FY 2016 to 26,000 with a specific allocation for Syrian refugees. This is not to be at the expense of other countries of origin. There is a historic precedent for this, as we currently consider groups such as Iranian religious minorities, Iraqis who have helped the United States, Cubans, Ethnic minorities from Burma and Ethnic minorities from Bhutan in this category. While the budget for refugee resettlement would have to be increased with the increase in refugee resettlement, it would be money well-spent.
The truth is, we could do all of these things and still not alleviate a percentage of the misery this population has experienced over the last four years. But to not extend more resources when the Syrian people so desperately need them is to squander an opportunity to live out and demonstrate our ideals to the world. The image of that little Syrian boy, lying lifeless in the water, is an indictment on the world for not having done more to help. There are times when we don’t know what action can help. However, when we do know how to help and choose not to, we choose to compound the suffering and evil perpetrated against others. I’m asking you to choose to extend the hand of humanity to the Syrian people and help them rebuild their lives, both overseas and in our incredible country through the actions depicted above.
I look forward to hearing from you, and I will be paying attention to how you vote on these issues. Thank you for your service to our district and its constituents.