Yesterday, ISIS confirmed that a hostage they'd held since August 2013 was dead. Kayla Mueller, a 26-year-old from Arizona, is being mourned by her family and the public, and her death is rightfully strengthening the world's determination to confront and stop ISIS. But I want to focus on Kayla and the life choices she made. In her short life, she stands as a beautiful alternative to the small, self-absorbed way we so often live.
From yesterday's CNN article: "In high school and at college, she campaigned against international atrocities. After graduating from college in 2009, the Arizona native traveled to northern India, the Palestinian territories and Israel to assist humanitarian groups, her family said. She then went to Syria to help people whose lives had been torn apart by war, especially children."
William Wilberforce, the fiery member of British Parliament who led the movement to abolish slavery in 18th/19th Century England, said: “If to be feelingly alive to the sufferings of my fellow-creatures is to be a fanatic, I am one of the most incurable fanatics ever permitted to be at large.” Kayla was that kind of fanatic: "feelingly alive to the sufferings of her fellow creatures." And that aliveness to the sufferings of others led her to do things that most American twentysomethings view as strange--but which Kayla undertook with joy.
This is very much how Jesus lived, and calls us to live. I'm not sure about Kayla's spiritual beliefs. Although she refers to God a few times in her correspondence, I haven't seen any specifics. But her attitude and actions toward the oppressed and vulnerable were unmistakably Christ-like. In a world enamored with power and wealth, Jesus developed a reputation as an advocate for the poor, sick, and marginalized. He taught that the reality of our faith would be demonstrated most clearly by how we treated the hungry, sick and imprisoned. And Kayla's decision to live that way proves that it can be done. It's unfashionable, exhilarating, rewarding, and sometimes extremely dangerous... but it can be done.
This week, I'll be making decisions. Just like I do every week. Decisions about how to use my time and money; decisions about what things I'll admire and celebrate and excitedly post and tweet and tell my kids about at dinner time. I have a finite amount of energy, and I'll be deciding whether to spend it on something self-absorbed--like another run at P90X to get ready for beach season--or something bigger. And Kayla Mueller's life has been like a slap across my face, re-awakening me to the reality that we don't have to settle for small lives. Many of my fellow creatures are suffering under injustice right now. And by God's grace, I can choose to do something about it.
Thank you, Kayla.