I was hiking in the woods with my two boys, my mother, and my sister when my brother-in-law called and told us there’d been a bombing in Boston, at the marathon. I still remember the terror as I tried to wrap my mind around it. I knew someone running in the marathon. I’d always wanted to run in it (but could never qualify).
What’s more, the Sandy Hook shooting had occurred just a few months earlier. This particular unfathomable tragedy had struck me hard and deep. Maybe because of the horror of it all, perhaps because my own boys were the same age as many of the victims.
After Sandy Hook, I cried myself to sleep for days. One of the curses of being a writer is having an overactive imagination, and in this instance, my mind would not let me rest as I thought of the tragedy, of the children and families affected. How could God let this happen?
By the time the bombing happened, I was really shaken up—and my faith, which I had once considered strong, was also shaken up. I started to become consumed with the potential for evil in the world. I became distrustful, expecting the worst from people. It was a terrible place to live.
In the days following the bombing, when one of the brothers was still on the loose, I had a knock come at my door. I looked out the tiny window of my front door to glimpse dark hair beneath a familiar-looking black-and-white baseball cap. It was Thursday, April 18, 2013, three days after the Boston Marathon bombing. Pictures of the brothers were all over the news, investigators searching for clues to where the two suspects could be—anywhere, it seemed.
Quite likely, at my front door. I lived only half an hour away from where the younger brother went to school, and with all my thoughts about evil finding me, I was sure it had in that moment.
Ducking down, I grabbed the phone and ushered my young sons into their bedroom, where we hid.
Now, despite my sons assuring me that they could take “the bad guy out” with their NERF guns, I called the police. Not long after, two officers crept into my backyard, guns drawn, searching my shed. They found no one and later tracked down a young tax assessor who admitted he had come to our house to check on renovation progress.
I felt foolish, and just a little crazy. But even after news stories finally stopped talking of the bombing, the feeling of fear didn’t go away. Yet I was a Christian, claiming to put my faith in a loving God. Why then, did I doubt Him? And how could I walk in faith while clinging to fear as my companion?
So, writers do this thing (or maybe it’s just me), where we might not want to face what’s going on in our own lives, but somehow facing it in a story seems less intimidating. So I turned to my writing (and my sixth manuscript attempt at publication) for answers to the question, “How can I conquer fear?”
In the process of answering this question, two women—centuries apart—were birthed. Annie is a Boston Marathon bombing victim, wondering how she will ever get past the bombing, and the subsequent choices she has made to separate herself from her family, including a niece who lost a leg in the bombing. The ring given to Annie the day of the bombing becomes an idol to her. Liberty is a woman wondering how she will ever get past the death of her brother in the Boston Massacre, and the subsequent choices she has made in stealing a ring from a man (a British officer) who has shown her nothing but kindness.
Both women are bound with chains they were never meant to carry. Both women look to the ring and to themselves to find the strength they know they lack. But of course a piece of metal or even our abilities won’t deliver us—as I learned very early on—from fear and weakness and inadequacy.
And through the journeys of these two fictitious women, along with some amazing support and encouragement from loved ones, I began to breathe again. To glimpse the true freedom won for me long ago. And despite the popular slogan of “Boston Strong” bandied about everywhere I looked, it had nothing to do with my own strength at all.
Jesus, particularly in the Sermon on the Mount, makes promises to those who don’t feel especially strong.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.”
What God offers is for the weak and the broken. In fact, without realizing our brokenness, we won’t realize the enormity of God’s grace.
I often think I can look to myself for strength. Or if not myself, then my great faith. But maybe it’s not how together I have it, or even how big my faith is. Maybe it’s who I put my faith in.
I’m grateful for this message that God wrote on my heart through this story and these characters. I pray it has, or will touch your heart as well.