Scars: In Memory of the Yiayia & Papou I Never Knew

This article was published on June 10, 2012, the 68th anniversary of their death, June 10, 1944

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My Papou and Yiayia: George and Pandora Loukas

There is nothing more precious than to sneak into the bedroom of my sleeping three-year old son and kiss him good night.  The other night I prayed a blessing over him and sealed it with the sign of the cross on his forehead—as my parents had done for me.  I felt God’s presence reminding me that Jamin Loukas was on this earth for a reason.  The same goes for my father, Loukas G. Loukas.

On this day, June 10, 2012 as we remember the horrific massacre in the small village of Distomo, Greece, I am reminded of the God’s great grace intervening in another generation.  It was 68 years ago that my dad crouched trembling in a basement with 13 other children.  Where were his parents to sneak in and check on him?

Three days after the historical D-Day in 1944, Nazi troops were traveling through the region near Distomo.  In that surrounding area there were numerous resistance freedom fighters that had attacked the German troops and injured the head Nazi commander.  This act sent the Nazi troops into a rage of retaliation that they unleashed on the unsuspecting peasants, farmers, priests, expectant mothers and young children of Distomo.

A Nazi soldier beat down the basement door.  When he discovered a room full of children, he positioned his weapon to shoot, then aimed at the ceiling—all the while motioning the children to keep silent.  

When my Yiayia Pandora and Papou George got news of something terrible happening in their village, they raced home from a day at the market as fast as their mule would take them.  They wanted to gather their children close, and keep them safe.  However, they never made it home.  Later, their bodies were found lifeless on the side of the road.

Meanwhile, some very frightened children sat listening in a darkened basement to the sounds of death all around them—awaiting a dreadful fate of their own.  A Nazi soldier beat down the basement door.  When he discovered a room full of children, God Almighty intervened.  The soldier positioned his weapon to shoot, then aimed at the ceiling—all the while motioning the children to keep silent.  He sealed the door back up as best he could and left, shooting chickens and goats on the way out.  He posted the official Nazi sign on the door that confirmed that the job there was done.

That was the day my dad was spared.  At ages 16 and 14, his two older sisters became instant guardians of a two-year old. My dad was too young to comprehend God’s hand on his destiny.  The story retold time and again has become his memory of the event.  His first real memory came when he was five years old and his aunt took him to “meet” his parents.  She pointed to their exhumed skeletons in the ground and said, “That is your mother and your father.  Give them a kiss.”

People usually talk about scars as a sign of terrible things that happened in the past.  I like to think about scars as a sign of healing—a reminder of God’s ability to restore, forgive, cleanse and redeem.  When I look at my own scars I remember the bad that could have been and once was, but is no more.  There is grace there instead.  My dad was orphaned at the age of two.  As a daughter with her daddy around, and as a mother with a young son, it brings me to tears to imagine not being there for my son.  What were my Yiaya and Papou thinking that day as they tried to race home?  What were their last prayers for their four children?

I’m thankful for a dad who checked in on me at night. And as I bless my son, I think of the scars and the grace.  Because God intervened that day, my son can sleep peacefully in his bed.   The same goes for his two sisters and four cousins.  Because of God’s grace in that basement in Distomo 68 years ago, my dad’s alive today, and God’s purpose lives on for another generation.

The memories of my Yiayia Pandora and Papou George are eternal.  They live on in my father’s heart and in the generations that live after them and hear their story.  Today we remember our loss and reflect upon our scars and the grace given to us.  May the memories of all 219 villagers lost in Distomo that day be remembered today.

For the LORD is good and His love endures forever; His faithfulness continues through all generations. Psalm 110:5

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Where Is Safe?

(As published in the Yemeni American News, August, 2016)

YAN G Is it Safe

My husband Steve and I sat motionless on the floor of our empty upper flat and watched with racing hearts the commotion below. We had just arrived in Dearborn, on a hot, sticky August afternoon in 2001. Waiting for our belongings to be shipped, we camped out in our uncomfortably warm living room for the night. We had just finished assuring family and friends back west that we were safe and settled in our recently rented flat. That’s when we heard the rustling in the backyard, and saw the red and blue flashes of the police cars reflecting on our front window. The chase was on. Numerous police officers followed a perpetrator of a gas station robbery on foot through our yard with shouts and flashlights… Was it safe to live in Dearborn, MI?

 Just 2 years earlier, on April 20, 1999, I sat with a cake decorator in Littleton, Colorado and picked delicate toppings and flavors for my wedding dream cake when we were interrupted by the shocking news of the Columbine High School shooting. Picking frosting flowers no longer seemed so fun… Was it safe to live in Littleton, CO?

What is a Sense of Safety?

Shortly after our furniture had arrived in Dearborn and we had settled in to our flat, I signed up to teach ESL at a local center in town. I was already nervous to meet the 30 beginning-English students from a variety of Arab countries. It was a big class and I was used to teaching kids, not grown women! What would they think of my games and songs? As it turned out, my first day of teaching was September 12, 2001. I was greeted by the intensity that all of us had unglued from our TVs to come to English class. We waited and wondered with the rest of the world how the horrendous 9-11 attacks and rescues would play out. I quickly adapted my lessons to teach my students words to share in collective grief, fear, and loss. Lessons many of them were already familiar with in Arabic as they had fled their home countries to move to a safer land. Playing games and singing songs no longer seemed so relevant.

After 9-11 we got numerous calls from our family and friends still concerned for our safety. Now, every time there is Islamophobic backlash directed at Dearborn after some display of terror, we still get that concerned question…Is it safe?

I don’t fully know what is safe. I feel a little naïve on the topic. I have lived with the luxury of not worrying about my safety up until the gas station robber was apprehended in my backyard. And thanks to the rapid response of the Dearborn police, that ended pretty quickly. Wikipedia says safety has to do with being protected from harm or being able to control recognized hazards. Considering the chaos of our world right now, what is safe? Are we able to control recognized hazards? As a mom, how do I keep my kids safe and control the recognized hazards in their little lives? Unlike some of my ESL students, I have never worried that my kids would hop, skip or jump over a land mine, or that loud thundering sounds after dark were anything more than a bad rainstorm. Is safety a right we have? A luxury? A privilege for some and not others?

Flags at Half-Staff

Haff StaffLast month, as my husband and I and our three children drove homeward after an epic road-trip across miles and miles of United States, we started to notice a pattern. Colorado, Nebraska, Iowa, Indiana, Illinois… My kids wanted to know what was wrong with all the American flags. I explained to them the phenomenon of “half-staff”. When something really bad happens in our country, people hang the flags at half-staff on purpose as a way to show their grief and support. My son asked, “Did something bad happen in each of these places?” I assured him that it was to show support, not because every city we passed had something horrendous happen in it. But deep inside, I shuddered at that fearful possibility.

Safety and Fear

If we don’t feel safe, our natural human reaction is fear. Saint John, disciple of Jesus the Messiah, said, Perfect love drives out fear. Fear will always creep in, but love is the best way to combat the fears we face. Carl Medearis, author and specialist in Muslim-Christian relations, poses a relevant and insightful question based on St. John’s quote: “If perfect love drives out fear, is it possible that perfect fear can also drive out love? Fear is the devil’s workshop. Perfect fear drives out love…Only one remains. Fear or love.”

If my safety is compromised, my natural reaction is fear. But fear and love are at odds in my soul. Fear leads to anger and hate. Love leads to freedom, joy and peace. Even though love is risky and sometimes dangerous, I choose that. As far as I am able, I want to combat the tempting momentum of fear by sharing stories of love and peace with the concerned callers checking in on my safety. I choose to teach love to my children. I choose to receive love from those around me…my students, my neighbors, my coworkers. I choose to extend love to someone living in fear. I don’t know if it’s safe to live here or there in our turbulent world, but I do know where I DON’T want to live, and that is in fear.