The siren sounded and I wasn’t ready.
For several days I had this nagging thought that I needed to prepare a bag for a quick trip down to the bomb shelter, if it came to that. Israel was engaging in Operation Pillar of Defense, and we were living through it. With the battle in the South escalating to missile attacks on Tel Aviv and Rishon Le Tzion, both only a forty-five minute drive from Jerusalem, the reality of our circumstances hit closer to home. Literally.
I had gathered a few things and put them together, but in the busyness of the day, I just had not finished.
Then it happened.
We were leaving the house for Shabbat Dinner and the siren blew. My heart sank. I rushed to gathered up the sorted contents I wanted for our shelter bag, as we headed into the stairwell of our building. Greeted by concerned neighbors, one even in a bathrobe, we discovered our shelter door to be locked and the only person with a key was not home. Not only was I not ready, but also our entire building was not ready either.
After staying in the stairwell for the duration of the siren and the recommended ten minutes after, we headed out, on foot, for dinner.
Part of the Israeli mentality towards military conflicts and terrorist attacks is to continue on with life as normally as possible. I couldn’t quite transition back into normal. My adrenaline was still running high. I feared the conflict was now at our back door.
On the walk, all I dwelled on was how foolish I had been to not prioritize getting our bag ready earlier in the day. We’d be safe without it, but as the mother of a then-two-and-a-half-year-old, there are things I wanted for an extended time in the shelter; things to help my child feel safe and secure.
Like those silly foolish virgins who had their lamps, but forgot their oil, I wasn’t ready. My flask was empty.
“Then the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins, who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. ”
(Matthew 25:1-4 ESV)
When we got home from dinner that night, I completed our bag’s contents and placed it next to the door with shoes and jackets close by. We slept ready to go if the siren was to sound again. Well, at least my husband and son slept. I was up all night working through anxiety from the earlier events of the day.
Israel is a nation that regularly transverses between times of war and times of peace. This sort of event was not new for many of my friends, my husband included. It was, however, my first war, and it was not normal for me. I was thankful for that. (I pen this today at the close of my second war, Operation Protective Edge, and while I’ve settled into this reality, it is still not normal.) I am also thankful that conflict of this scale is not part of our everyday life.
The everyday is a far cry from the excitement I envisioned as part of carrying the gospel to the ends of the earth, while I was a student and a big dreamer. Most days are spent partaking in regular mom-duties. I’m usually at home, hanging laundry on the line, cooking, training Aviel in the way he should go (Proverbs 22:6), all the while trying to meet a few small career goals during naps, and squeezing in prayer and Bible reading through out the day whenever I can. Even the work of bringing the message of Yeshua to the Land is a slow process of building and maintaining friendships overtime. A far cry from the fast-paced short-term trips I had ventured on before moving to Israel. It’s a hard lifestyle, and sometimes, to be completely honest, it’s… boring.
I struggle the most when my responsibilities keep me isolated in our neighborhood. While going about my household chores, I often forget where I am. Others times, I remember where I am, and realize the great distance from my family. Then homesickness sets in.
Disparaging thoughts creep in. The oil drains from my flask:
I could be hanging laundry in North Carolina, where I’d be close to family. What difference am I making here?
Dull days that seem wasted by cleaning the same toddler-induced mess over and over again, paired with an ache for extended family can bring on complacency. Those are the times I have to choose: Will I continue to draw near to the Lord or will I sleep?
As the bridegroom was delayed, they all became drowsy and slept. (Matthew 25:5 ESV)
In the midst of the mundane, I often take a little stroll to a place call the Tayelet. This is city garden, that overlooks Jerusalem’s Old City, Temple Mount, The Mount of Olives, and in the distance, the Dead Sea. While gazing upon the expansive Biblical topography of East Jerusalem, my perspective shifts to the eternal. Viewing the Mount of Olives, where Yeshua ascended into heaven, and where His feet will touch down, I’m reminded of the nearness of the Messiah’s return, and I remember my purpose.
If the Tayelet is my place of memory, then the siren had surfaced as my place of reality. No longer was I merely reading Scriptural passages about last days, but it was as though I was walking in the red letters of Matthew 24.
And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars…. (Matthew 24:6)
The words of the Messiah were no longer for them, but also for me.
See that you are not alarmed…. (Matthew 24:6)
Really, Lord? This is scary business.
Scripture countered anxious thoughts.
Do not fear for I am with you…. Do not be dismayed for I am your God. (Isaiah 41:10)
Not just any verses, but specifically Bible verses that I had been working on with my son . Then I realized that it was the very times of remaining in the Lord through life’s dull moments that gave me something to draw on in the heat. Staying in His word, filling our home with worship music while I cleaned, reading Bible stories and working on memory verses with Aviel, all of these times of choosing to dwell with Him through my work allowed the Lord to pour His everlasting oil into my oil flask.
In the days that followed before the cease-fire was called during the first conflict, I continued to recall the truths I knew about God’s heart and character, His promises for me, and His promises for the nation of Israel. It was in those places of truth that I was able to dwell in the shelter of the Most High (Psalm 91:1), unafraid. I was being shaken that week a few years ago, and I’m being shaken again now. I need His word, which will not pass away (Matthew 24:35), to bring peace into my soul and my home.
As I maintained a posture of prayer during that first military operation, I asked Him to give me a spirit of wisdom about how to prepare our home and our hearts for each time conflict happens again. And I asked Him to help me to be ready for Him, for His return.
At the midnight cry, when the Bridegroom comes, I want my oil flasks full.