It's an amazing experience to be in the midst of your worst fears and to find yourself fearless with inner peace. At times I wonder how, in the middle of tragedy, I could possibly be happy. Yet, here I sit: fearless and happy.
Thinking back on the past 10 years I can't recall a time that I've felt both of these in tandem. And it's not to say that life is perfect. In fact, it's far from it. I'm jobless, my home is filled with donated items, and worst of all, I live every single day in a half-life without my babies by my side. If I sit with the reality of things, it's so easy to be overcome with emotion. Knowing that my children are in the custody of man I fought so hard to protect us from is a heartache I couldn't wish on anyone. So how have I come to this personal place of inner peace? Faith.
I don't know that I've ever prayed harder, hurt more, or felt more hatred in my life than I did last year. If ever there was a test of faith, I know I'm living it. No mother should ever be deprived of the right to nurture and raise her children. To have those precoius hearts that once beat within me in unison with mine, taken away in an act of evil manipulation left my world stunned. I still don't know from where the strength to fight came. Yet, fight we did - and continue to do. From days filled with phone calls, campaigns and protests, to nights filled with numbness, anger and despair - here I stand.
I hadn't told anyone this, because, at the time, I was still fearful of having my whereabouts known. In November 2012 I returned home for 4 days. I had reached my personal limit of sanity and was past empty inside. We had finally gotten our judgement - which we'd been fighting for since January. I'd run around Tunis for 2 weeks before the trip, meeting with judges and the courts, government offices and worst of all, my ex monster, just to get an official copy of our judgment and have it served. At the end of that, I was so empty inside I couldn't even breathe the air inside my apartment. I was suffocated by the madness of everything; by the insanity of a system that cares more about paper and money than two precious babies and justice. I can only thank God that I had the sense to call my mom and dad and say: bring me home. It was a dark time, and to say that I was at the end of my rope is quite an understatement. Thank God they said come home.
I left Tunis on Eid al Adha, wondering how I could go without my babies by my side. Despite feeling like a traitor, I knew I had to escape. I spent 4 beautiful days with family and a few friends (I'm deeply sorry if you are reading this and I wasn't able to meet with you. I couldn't risk, at the time, anyone knowing where I was). In spite of the fact that the worst hurricane in recent history came and went, that time was my renewal. I've lived off of those 4 days ever since!
When I returned to Tunis, the air within me had changed. New opportunities presented themselves to me, new friends entered my life, and blessings began to abound. The news hadn't changed, nor the environment around me, but, somehow, I had. I began searching for the good again, and God led me right to it. And as I began to open up to goodness, I began to understand...
A dear friend counseled me months ago that while I shouldn't stop praying for the just outcome, I ought to start wondering why God placed me here. This gave me great pause as my initial thought was: I must have done something incredibly wrong cause He's punishing me! But after a few deep breaths, the wisdom of his words sunk in. God doesn't lead us to a place, He leads us through life. And a believer knows that whatever He brings you to, He brings you through. Our job is to grow through the process. And what my wise friend was pointing out is that I wasn't watching the growth; I hadn't sought the purpose.
As the reality of having to begin another year in Tunisia sunk in, so too did the profound statement of my friend.
I took some time to sit with my thoughts in prayer, and I finally gave myself to God. All of me - all of this. I thought I'd done this at so many points along this bumpy road. In reality, though, I'd just wanted to give God control, but I kept my troubles with me. It wasn't until I finally released all of my energy and sought with an open and receiving heart for God to lead me, that I finally felt peace. And let me tell you, God moves mountains within before He moves mountains without. You may not understand these words, but I'm forever thankful that I've been blessed to express them.
Since 2013 began, I opened myself up to receiving God's plan for me. I've asked Him to guide my thoughts, guide my actions, and guide my circumstances. In this time, I've found purpose for myself. I've become excited about work and establishing an organization that I think I've been dreaming about and planning for since 2001! I stopped fighting being in Tunisia, and suddenly the best parts of this country opened up to me. I left my financial concerns in His hands, and suddenly opportunites to work came tumbling in. The words of one of my favorite authors, Joel Osteen, began to resonate with me on a daily basis: Bloom where you are planted! This is all I've sought to do since.
With that, for the first time in too long, I am finally living a life without fear - and what a happy life that is.
Another dear friend of mine asked me a few days ago if I was having too much fun to want to come back to the U.S. My response came out in tears. Because in answering her, all that I've tried to express above finally sunk in:
I know this battle has been won for us. I know that Eslam, Zainab and I are a million times better people for this experience than we ever would have been without it. I don't know in which ways yet, but I have no doubt in my mind that God is preparing us for something amazing, and I can't say it hasn't already begun. I can see things happening that reflect my secret or long held ambitions.
I don't know that I can explain it, because, as I've always said, my prayers and dreams seem to manifest in my life in the most unimaginable ways for me. All I can say is that from the moment I fully (I mean FULLY - not just believing, but actually did placed my life in God's hands and gave Him the control and left Him to guide me and lead the way) all I've had are blessings. An unwavering conviction, and unbelievable blessing.
Please don't ever doubt my faith in the end result. Don't ever think I've given up. I think I've just been opened up to the fact that there is purpose in all of it, and seeking the purpose in the event has led to so many beautiful things, and it's only convinced me more that justice and victory are with us.
I hurt every moment I allow myself to think about the affects of all of this on my sweet babies. Zainab calls me in tears about how much she misses me and wants me with her, and all I can say is "honey, you know mommy is always with you no matter what. Just close your eyes and feel my hug and kisses and I'm there." It's the hardest thing in the world to have to teach your kids to live without your love, affection, care...to know they're not being properly cared for and just stand by and wait for someone somewhere to do something to save them. Because you know that no matter how much you want to take it all into your own hands, the danger is greater for you and for them if you do. It's maddening.
But somewhere in this madness, insanity, and heartache, God gave me light, and love, and happiness, and a place to make peace and rest in His command of all things. I would never lose faith, hope, or belief in the end result. I wouldn't be a mother if I did. Don't ever doubt my mind or conviction on this. But I have to live to seek a greater purpose, and pray that in our struggle there is benefit with a far greater reach. Otherwise, all there is for this entire experience is misery.
The story of Prophet Yusuf (Joseph) (AS) serves a clear example of God's amazing blessings through life's great tests. The Holy Quran tells us that with every struggle, there will follow ease. What is so easily missed, but so incredibly important to realize, is the growth that happens in the in-between. And though I'd give anything to have saved my children the hurt they've experienced this past year and half, I wouldn't trade the blessings through this struggle for the world. My total reliance on God assures me that although I may not see it, His road always leads to blessings. And, to date, I've found no greater peace than believing to that.