Even before my son was born, I was doing everything I could to protect him. I avoided my favourite foods (soft cheeses, semi-cooked eggs and cheesecake, the last due to gestational diabetes). I suffered through hayfever attacks, paranoid the antihistamine medication would be harmful to my unborn foetus.
We won’t even talk about how protective I was about my growing bump, especially in crowded spaces.
Then Elliott was born and with it, I became a full-fledged mama bear. I surprised myself with the ferocity of my protectiveness. I’ve never been the kind who would protest if someone jumped the queue in front of me, but I’d be vocally assertive when it came to standing up for my son’s rights.
Love him and keep him safe. You could pretty much sum up my motherhood goals with those two thoughts—and I’m sure most mothers would agree that those ideals would be at the top of their own priorities too.
What would you do if protecting your children was out of your hands?
One year ago in Australia, seven children were walking to a shop in Oatlands, a Sydney suburb, to buy ice-cream. These kids were old enough to perform that task by themselves (even if we’re protective, we know not to be helicopter parents). They weren’t being reckless—they were walking on a footpath.
Then, out of a nowhere, an out-of-control ute ploughs into them. It kills four of them, siblings Antony, 13, Angelina, 12, and Sienna Abdallah, 9, and their cousin Veronique Sakr, 11. The driver was drunk (three times above the legal limit) and walked away uninjured.
In the blink of an eye, your precious children, filled with so much promise and potential, won’t be celebrating their next birthdays, or any more to come.
You know you’ve done a great job of protecting them. And at an age when it’s important for them to find their own independence, you’re slowly letting go. You’ve known you’ve kept them safe and you’ve taught them how to be safe.
When something like this happens, you know it’s not your fault.
But the drunk driver? The one who was driving drunk at eight in the evening? The one who NSW police allege was travelling at more than 70 kilometres per hour over the speed limit when he hit your children, who were walking on the pathway where pedestrians were meant to be for their own safety?
What about God? The One you pray to every day to keep your children safe? The One who is supposed to be all-powerful and strong enough to protect you and your family from the storms? The One who promises things like “Trust in the Lord with all your heart . . . and he will make your paths straight” and “Blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord”?
Two days after the tragic incident happened, Leila Abdallah, mother of six (with three killed in the incident and another in a coma—he would go on to make a full recovery) had this to say about the driver: “I know he was [allegedly] drunk, driving on this street . . . I think in my heart [I] forgive him, but I want the court to be fair. It’s all about fairness. I’m not going to hate him, because that’s not who we are.”
The driver, Samuel William Davidson, will be sentenced in March.
What would you do if you could blame someone for hurting your children?
A year later, on the anniversary of the horrific incident, both the Leila and Danny Abdallah, and the Sakr family have launched “i4give Day”, as a way to remember their children, but also to encourage others to consider the concept of forgiveness.
Even after the events of last year, Leila, a lifelong Christian, continues to trust God. “When you read the Bible, Jesus said, ‘Carry your cross and follow me.’ He didn’t say we are going to have a good life . . . He asked us to carry the cross,” Leila told Eternity News.
The cross Leila refers to represents all that is wrong in the world. The cross that Jesus carried—the one synonymous with Christianity—at its core, is a representation not only of what is wrong in the world, but what is wrong in us. Yes, not with us, but in us, because it’s an affliction all humanity inherited the day our first parents, Adam and Eve, chose to disobey God.
It’s what’s commonly referred to as “sin”.
It can sometimes be hard to fathom why God would allow tragedy to befall us, but perhaps we’re focusing on the wrong thing. It may not be so much about God “allowing” it than simply it being an inevitable journey we have to take, as painful as it may seem. The focus in this instance is on how much we continue to trust God and allow Him to continue to guide us. (For those interested, Jesus Himself said, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”)
Over 20 years ago, I could have railed at God for “allowing” my father to die, leaving behind my mum to look after myself and my 10-year-old brother. Five years later, it would have been easy to be angry at God again for “allowing” my grandmother to pass away suddenly, causing our family, and especially my mother, further despair.
Since becoming a Christian, there have been many instances in my life which have felt severely unfair. And I wasn’t perfectly calm through my own life tragedies. I questioned my faith and felt aggrieved through the death of loved ones, job redundancies and missed opportunities.
But deep down, I knew it wasn’t God’s fault, because that cross that Jesus carried? It not only represents everything that’s wrong, it also speaks of forgiveness and healing.
As Leila said at a launch ceremony in Sydney attended by Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian, “Forgiveness is the greatest gift you can give yourself and to others. . . . For non-believers, forgiveness frees up your emotions. It brings healing to a hurting soul and allows you to have peace in your heart.”
Jesus used the cross to forgive humanity for their sins. We use forgiveness to heal our broken hearts and souls—and even our lives.
What would you do if you found a way to heal?
To the Abdallah and Sakr families whose innocent children died in the hands of a drunk driver, i4give Day is a way for the entire community to feel the freedom of forgiveness.
“Our lives, to a greater or lesser extent, all end up incomplete, broken, unfairly ripped away from us, and causing hurt to others because of our weaknesses, infidelities, sin and malice; and still, it can all wash clean again. There’s new life after all the ways we’ve gone wrong in this world. And that comes through forgiveness. There’s nothing more healing or miraculous, than a moment of reconciliation, a moment of forgiveness. Our hearts that are frozen and dead from disappointment, bitterness, anger, separation and hatred can beat again,” the website says.
Dr Dick Tibbits is the author of Forgive to Live, which reveals groundbreaking research that links depression, stress and heart disease with our inability to forgive.
“Researchers have found that the word forgiveness is most frequently used by people who seek to have their sins forgiven by God—yet you don’t need to be religious to see the value of forgiveness or to deal with the hurts you’ve experienced because of what other people have said and done to you,” he writes.
“When you choose the way of forgiveness, you choose a different path for your life, one that leads toward hope and a better future rather than down a dark path of grievance and pain. Forgiveness means giving up all hope for a better past and instead planning for a better future. Only when you learn to forgive can you experience peace in the present and hope for the future.”
This is the power of forgiveness.
I have not felt the grief of losing my child as a result of the misdeeds of someone else—and I pray I never have to experience it like the family members of those tragic victims the Oatlands crash. My heart breaks for the Abdallah and Sakr families, countless other parents who have had to bury their children, and everyone else who has had to suffer at the hands of another.
i4give Day won’t take away the reality of the hurt and pain we’ve all had to experience—and will continue to—but the concept of forgiveness is a noble one that promises to bring healing not only for us, but also for the world.
Want to learn more about forgiveness? Check out this free online course.