Jayson and I attended St. Mark’s Coptic Orthodox Church here in Maadi, Egypt on Coptic Christmas Eve. This is not so unusual, as it is the main church we attend weekly, but this particular night was a little different. You may have heard in the news about the suicide bomber who attacked a Coptic Church in Alexandria, Egypt on New Year’s Eve. Egypt’s churches had been threatened by terrorists back in November, and on New Year’s Eve, that threat became reality! The week that followed was interesting reading the news reports and hearing about the heightened security as Coptic Christmas approached. Each day as I took my girls to preschool across the street from the Coptic Church, I noticed more and more security measures. The teachers told me about bomb-sniffing dogs and scanners to be put in place for the Christmas Eve service. We had planned to take a trip three hours south of Cairo for the holiday to celebrate with the same priest’s family we had celebrated with last year, but were advised to change our plans due to the threats. And yet, we couldn’t forsake the place where we had been striving to belong over the last year. It was Christmas Eve, the second biggest Christian holiday, and threats or no threats, it was time to attend church.
It was a long day in many ways. I began work making a “contingency plan” over a year ago, and yet, with the immediate cares of everyday, I usually forgot about it and certainly didn’t make it a priority. And yet, that day, with the thought of attending church under threat of attack, my thoughts turned to our three little girls, and what information people would need if something happened to Jayson and me. I finally got around to writing down where our important documents are kept, phone numbers of parents in the states, and contact information for other connections we have. I even wrote down phone numbers of friends in the country who I knew would be able to help with babysitting, even though I never asked them if they would be on my contingency plan. It was necessary, but foreboding, to be writing down the girls’ daily schedules: Emma and Hannah go to bed at 7pm, Layla is eating squash and peas … things people would need to know IF something happened. But yet, the thought of this information being needed was very disturbing!
I lived that day a little differently I think. I prayed more. I hugged my girls more. I had realized in the past that I didn’t have many pictures of me with the girls simply because I am usually the one taking the pictures. And I knew I didn’t have any recent pictures of me with Hannah, my second girl. So, one of the things I did that day was take some self-portrait shots with Emma and with Hannah. I figured IF something happened, at least the girls would have these photos to hang on to. How depressing! But it was the first time I really went through a day thinking, this COULD be my last day.
I even taught the girls a song that day which I had recently remembered when reading Psalms. I heard this song years ago on one of Steve Green’s Bible Verse Song tapes and it goes, “When I am afraid I will trust in You, I will trust in You, I will trust in You….” I thought it a perfect song, not only for when they wake up at night with bad dreams, but especially today … IF something happened to me, I wanted them to have a song to sing as they were afraid without their Mommy and Daddy.
I tried not to think about the possibility of this being my last day on earth too much, but it really was a strange feeling. I wasn’t overcome with fear, but I really did want to be prepared … or have my girls prepared for what COULD happen, without letting them think about what COULD happen. My “I love you’s” to them when we put them to bed had a little more weight behind them than normal, and I looked at them just a few seconds longer than usual as I left their room.
I wasn’t sure if I would be nervous the whole time we were in the church, as the best time for the attack would be as people were exiting the building, but while I thought about it some, it wasn’t at the forefront of my mind. I was impressed by the security presence at the entrance. I was impressed by the number of people who were in the church, and the numbers who just kept coming and made it standing-room-only for a time. I felt proud to be there and proud of the others who came despite the threats. I was grateful to the Muslims I noticed in the crowd, for their standing with their Egyptian brothers in a possibly dangerous place. And I enjoyed what I could understand of the sermon.
I got a little nervous toward the end as the priest made several announcements to the congregants to exit and go straight to their cars following communion. They reminded them not to stand around and chat either inside or outside the building. They wanted to cooperate with security as much as possible and get people home safely. I felt comfortable inside and couldn’t imagine something happening at that point, but still, we had to leave the church and walk through the barriers before we were “safe.”
And you all know, since I am writing this post after the fact, that nothing happened and I am still alive and well and still able to be a Mommy to Emma, Hannah and Layla, for which I am very grateful. But I now have a good start on our contingency plan, and a good reminder of what it’s like to live more “in the moment,” realizing that any day COULD be my last day here. I don’t want to live in the depressing “what if’s” of thinking about death, but I want to hug my kids hard each day, tell them I love them truly each day, teach them songs and take pictures with them each day.
I’m thankful for the days God gives me here, but I don’t want to live in awareness of this only when the thought of death becomes a possibility. Though there are many good things to live for, sometimes we only recognize it when the status quo is threatened. Terrorism can do that to you, but it can also lead to paralysis. Hopefully, in the days to come, we can find the balance.