Earlier this week, as we watched our son’s last basketball game of the season, a strange, muffled alarm rang out and people grabbed their phones to find an Amber Alert had been issued for a 10-year-old little girl named Hailey Owens in Springfield, Mo. On the way home, highway marquees continued to flash the alert. The kids wanted to know what an Amber Alert was and when I told them, they grew quiet in the backseat.
Hailey’s body was found, the news reports announced the next morning, and we were quiet and sober, and my own little girl whispered, “She was 5-foot-2, Mommy.”
How we explain such horrors to our children, or even to ourselves? How a 45-year-old man, the same age as their daddy, could do such a thing—snatch somebody’s daughter, somebody’s baby out of the safety of her own yard and do God knows what to her before ending her life—is a horror none of us, especially those of us who are parents, can comprehend.
The best I can do is tell my children that this is what happens when sin grips us and doesn’t let go, and that the result of all sin is eventually death, corporal or spiritual or both, and this is why we hate (or should hate) sin. I say this, hoping to remind myself and realizing how unconvincing my words are. A little girl was here, then she was gone, and there is no amount of explanation that makes sense of it.
It isn’t the first time I have had to answer difficult questions, and it certainly won’t be the last. And I’ve long given up thinking there is something I can say that will entirely reassure my children. Bad things happen to little girls and to little boys and to babies and mothers with a gaggle of kids and fathers who were just on their way to work. Cancers wrap their horrible cells around tender parts, and to at least try to save a loved one we must poison them until they vomit and their hair falls out. The cancer of sin wounds deep, and with our words we commit murder nearly every day, and with our actions prove our unfaithfulness even to the One who lovingly knit us together. And still we ask, why? Hurt me, but don’t hurt my babies. God, don’t hurt my babies.
It’s no comfort to tell our children all that, of course, but what do we say? I have written in this place before that all I can promise my kids is that their souls are safe in Christ, that whatever or whoever hurts them can never touch the part of them that lives forever. One day, long, dark, nightmare-infested nights will go away. Stomach flus and respiratory viruses and cancers will cease to exist, and tears will become extinct. We will live in perfect peace without worry of kidnappers and perverts and even the sin we commit against our own selves. We will lie down with the lion and the lamb and under the wing of our Protector, against whom no intruder can prevail. One day we will never hear an Amber Alert go off in the middle of a basketball game or hear stories of little girls lost.