The Boy Who Woke Up (or, How Ann Voskamp Ruined My Evening)


Last night, I woke up.

Not literally. Maile and I had just left a graduation party for my wonderful sister where we stuffed ourselves with delicious food and arrived home with four fewer children than usual. My parents had graciously swept in and offered to keep the older four overnight, so the home we came back to was quieter than normal, less scattered. Normally, if we arrive home after eight o’clock, I’m shouting “Brush your teeth!” and “Get your pj’s on!” and “Sammy, seriously, brush your teeth!” Last night it was just silence, and there was a spirit of peace. I felt like I had walked into Saint James Episcopal Church, alone.

I opened the windows and put a fan in one of them. Cool, muggy air swept through the house, along with the sounds from James Street, the sound of cars swishing along wet roads, the sound of a world where rain had just fallen. It was a welcomed respite. A reprieve from this life that has somehow spiraled out of control lately with busy-ness and running here and there and chasing something, always chasing something crucial. I can’t always remember what we’re chasing, but we keep at it because that’s the Responsible thing to do.

Those things, that busy-ness, it will do to you what you least expect – it will put you to sleep. It will close your eyes to the things that are most important in the world. It will put you on a track of ever-shrinking concentric circles until all you’re doing is turning inside of yourself, like Gollum turning his ring over and over.

I sat on the sofa and sighed, tired from all the chasing. Maile took Leo upstairs and fed him, put him in his crib. She came downstairs in her pajamas and went to the kitchen for something to drink. Finally, a night where we could breathe. Watch a movie. Zone out.

I turned my eyes to my phone, as I tend to do these days in an ever-increasing search for distraction. It’s the cycle: Chase, Chase, Chase, Distract, Distract, Distract. Ann Voskamp posted something, something about those trying to survive ISIS, something with “Please read this!” attached, and because I was in distraction mode, I read it.

And it woke me up.

Please read it. Please read it in all its horrific detail, all its everything. I had tears in my eyes from the moment I started reading it until twelve hours later when I still didn’t know what to do and so I read it again. Maile and I sat in the living room and read parts out loud to each other and cried some more. Then we woke up this morning and, because the kids were still at my parents, we read it again.

I feel suddenly awake to the world. I want to do something to help, something, anything. I don’t know what. I hope I can figure out what to do before I go back to sleep again. I’m scared about that. I’m scared that the bills and the activity and the Busy-ness will put me back to sleep. I’m awake, for one screaming day, and it hurts, you know? We don’t create these little sleeps, these little distractions, for no reason – they anesthetize us, make us feel good, help us to forget. These activities and jobs and television shows keep the days spinning by, and soon the kids are in college and the house is paid off and we’re looking into retirement packages because we’ve worked so hard, you know, and now we deserve some rest.

But every once in a while you wake up and you feel it. You get a sense, such a small sense, of the pain the world is feeling, and it scorches you, moves straight for your heart, leaves you gasping. My initial reaction is to pull away from that pain, to drown myself in this chasing, this busy-ness. I want to fade away, to binge-watch a new show on Netflix or maybe one I’ve already seen. Breaking Bad was good the first time – I could probably get another three months’ worth of distraction out of that one. I want to focus on paying the bills, working a few more hours, getting the kids to their lessons and their grandparents’ house and keeping them distracted, too. Lord knows we don’t want our children to wake up. Heaven forbid.

Now that I’m awake, part of me wants to go back to sleep.

But not now. Now I’m awake, and I want to do something. I send out a message to everyone I know who works internationally, and that’s what I say. That’s what I try to shout. “I want to do something!”

But it came out as only a whisper. It turns out I haven’t used that voice for a long time. Too long. It’s dry and parched. I drink in Ann’s article again and I try to shout.

“I want to do something!”

And I wait.

9 Replies to “The Boy Who Woke Up (or, How Ann Voskamp Ruined My Evening)”

  1. Oh boy, do I ever identify with this. My heart breaks for this world and I don’t know what to do. I’m limited due to health and circumstances, but still, I want to help – to make a difference. The apathy is winning. My poor, broken, apathetic heart. God help us.

  2. I too read Ann’s article – it hurts. It is just as you said Shawn. I don’t want to go back to sleep but I don’t know what to do. Somehow throwing money (whatever pitiful amount I have) at the problem does not seem to be the answer for me. I need to be changed inside. I am way too full of myself.

    1. We are certainly giving money to help, but I know what you’re saying Laura. I feel that as a Christian and a human I must do something else as well. Still trying to figure out what that is.

  3. Way too familiar, this feeling, this sleepiness. And yet, there is something to be said for faithfulness in the everydayness, too. Not the overbusyness, but the regular — caring for the kids, caring for the house, caring for the neighbor, the one next door. Love to know what comes from this painful episode, Shawn, what God will show you, how the wakefulness will bear fruit.

    1. For me right now, Diana, faithfulness looks like knocking on doors. Sending emails of inquiry into how I can help. Nothing frantic or pushy or rushed, but simple steps. Knocking on doors and patiently waiting for answers.

  4. Shawn, I clicked on over via Glynn Young’s weekly wrap up. Ann Voskamp’s cry clearly went out across the world and I, too, did something (small) and donated my $25.00. And all of a sudden over night (thanks to Jennifer Dukes Lee and Ann and others–and you) this horror that is ISIS is being smashed – we hope–because of Premptive Love’s work.
    There are the REALLY big things like standing up to evil when we can and there are the little big things, as Ms. Diana remarked above. Those make a difference over time, too. YOu’re raising awesome human beings, I’m sure, and THAT is a big deal, too.

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