A man of sorrows, acquainted with grief.

On Wednesday, I put one of my closest friends on a plane and sent her back to Germany. We got to the airport early, so we procrastinated on the goodbye of course, and we sat together reminiscing and talking about the last couple of months which had been the most tumultuous in our friendship yet. It turns out that if you put two people together, any people, going through culture shock at the same time, 24/7, you get some serious tension. We had never really fought before, but we sure made up for lost time these past few months as we tiptoed around each other and everything changed. I can’t explain how it happened, but after only the first couple weeks, I got so sick and tired of the tension that while she was lying on her bed I just crawled in next to her and said I’m sorry, that I didn’t know why things were so weird between us now, and she was relieved that I’d said something. We laid next to each other, wondering out loud what was going on. We shed tears of frustration, not just at each other, but at what was going on. We didn’t understand it nor did we know what to do. Even with the conversation acknowledging how hard it was, it didn’t get any easier. But even with both of our sinfulness, in the end, this friend was gracious enough to ask me out to breakfast to tell me that she still loved me. That despite the hard times, she was choosing instead to remember the great times, and assured me that even after this speedbump, however huge it felt, we were going to be okay. I cried over my pancakes, knowing I didn’t deserve it.

A good friend of mine likes to ask her friends a peculiar question when she wants to know how they’re really doing: “When was the last time you cried?” If the person couldn’t remember, or it had been a long time since their last cry, she knew she had reason to be concerned about them.

There really is no way to explain in words what it feels like to walk away from someone who is walking into the security line in the airport. To leave them there, knowing the next time you see each other will not be soon, and they may even have children and a husband next time, or maybe you won’t see them again at all. The same applies to getting on a plane. Goodbyes have been so much a part of my life in the last few years but that doesn’t mean I don’t feel acutely the pain of each and every one of them as if it were the first goodbye I’ve ever said. You never get used to it. When I left her at the airport and walked back to my car, I knew it was okay to cry because that’s what people do at the departures terminal of the airport. No one will think I’m weird. But unfortunately I couldn’t stop. I got into my car and BURST into tears. And I mean tears. Sobs, actually. Heart-wrenching ones that I immediately realized I had held in for the last 3 months because they came from deep inside and nothing could stop them. If you’ve ever seen that episode of Grey’s Anatomy when Christina, the “strong, emotionless” character, loses her baby and shows no emotion for days until something happens and suddenly the dam bursts and she can’t stop crying, she’s hyperventilating and yelling “make it stop!” in between sobs…well, that was me, in the airport parking lot. In these last few months I’ve lost my “baby.” My whole world. All my friends. My job. My everyday life routine. My surroundings. My expectations. Even my expectations of myself. Friendships that once were so good were damaged because I was more selfish than I thought. I even lost Jesus in all of that. And I didn’t let myself feel the intense loss until then. I pretended to be strong. I love my new life. Transition was going to be easy, I thought. I’ve got this. I don’t need help. I don’t even need God’s help.

I suddenly noticed a security camera and didn’t want people coming after me thinking I was losing my mind, even though I kind of was, so I got things somewhat together, put my sunglasses on, and drove away.

It felt good to let it all out, but more than that, ever since that day, I have been having encounters with Jesus that I can’t explain. In some deep and mysterious way, I let him in that day in the parking garage more than I have in a long time. I yelled at him in the car. As long as we’re getting personal, I might as well tell you that I told him, out loud, in between sobs, it wasn’t “make it stop,” but instead, “I can’t do this, I can’t do this again, please, don’t make me do this”. The fear was overwhelming. I felt so scared in that moment. C.S. Lewis once said that grief feels so much like fear. Yeah, I chickened out about life. Me, the “strong one,” “laid-back Laura,” and all I could think of was how much I was losing.

I have lost so much in pursuit of what He wanted me to do, yet…somehow… he is becoming more than enough. That moment in the car was my garden of Gethsemane. That realization, knowing that Jesus was a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief, understanding what’s happening to me, gives me strength to endure, to grieve, to trust him with the place in my heart that hurts, admitting that I am not okay, that some days I am, but some days I’m just sad and confused and lonely and it feels like the rug has been pulled out from under me. But the gospel has captured me again suddenly. I’ve had this picture in my mind of him all week of him carrying his cross, stopping suddenly to look at me in the crowd of mockers, with eyes looking deep into my heart knowing my brokenness, yet looking at me with more love than I’ve ever felt, and even turning to continue the walk of the will of God for me. I can’t get that picture out of my head and it is driving grace and love and peace into me every day. Is this what it means to suffer with Christ? Is this what it means to build your house on Christ the solid rock and not on everything I’ve lost?

Grief has surrounded the community I’m in right now, and death has come to this area many times. I feel sick of it. Sick of death, loss, sin, pain, brokenness. I’ve been reading the Psalms this week, perfect pictures of joy and pain, hope and sorrow, begging God to show up in the midst of everything that is up and down right now. I don’t understand it, I don’t know what’s going to happen, but I do know that He is with me and He has proven that He loves me. I don’t know how to fully trust Him right now in all of it but I am trying. I think that’s what we are all trying to do.

Ellie Holcomb wrote this song based on several Psalms, for a depressed friend. And for me. May He be near and real in all of our pain.

I don’t want to face this valley
I don’t want to walk alone
You say that you’ll leave to find me
Well I am begging you now to come

Don’t think I can face the morning
The heaviness is on my chest
You say that you’ll lift this burden
Well I am begging you to bring me rest

Chorus:
So come and find me
In the darkest night of my soul
In the shadow of the valley
I am dying for you to make me whole
For you to make me whole

I can’t keep myself from sinkin’
From drowning down in all this shame
My throat is worn out from calling for help
And I am praying you’ll remember my name

I know I can’t fight this battle
Been surrounded on every side
You say that you will deliver me
Well I am praying that you’ll restore my life

Chorus

Answer me out of the goodness of your love
In your mercy turn to me
I know it’s you that I’ve been running from
But I’m seeing it’s you I need, need
You’re all I need

“‘In the same way I will not cause pain without allowing something new to be born,’ says the Lord.”
-Isaiah 66:9

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Do not fear

I’m not supposed to post anything about my opinions of war or the government or anything like that due to my job, but I think we can all agree that peace is ultimately what we all want. Today is the 12th anniversary of 9/11 as well as a day where several nations are on edge about what’s going to happen in Syria. War and peace are on everyone’s mind, and there’s an edginess to this day. I just walked to the Shoppette (our convenience store/gas station on post) a few minutes ago and THREE armed guards were there at the door checking ID cards, apologizing for “inconveniencing” me.

I’m pretty sure 9/11/2001 ranks up there in the top 10 scariest days of my life. Others being the day I got on a one-way flight to Germany, the day I said goodbye to my best friend at his hospital bed, and the day my Young Life girls made me do the jump at the end of the ropes course at Windy Gap. It was terrifying. Disconcerting, disorienting. Like the rug was pulled out from under me. I tried to resist fear because that’s exactly what the terrorists wanted us to feel and that’s why they did it. 9-11 was about taking away our feelings of security.

Living in Germany has really changed the way I feel about America. Not in a negative sense, or in a positive sense either actually. It’s just changed. I have now seen America from the outside. I can say that before I came over here, I thought America was the sh**. Superior in every single way, from the way we have bigger grocery stores to the power we have over other countries. I just thought we were the best.

Now, I’ve seen through the eyes of several groups of different people. I’ve seen through the eyes of military kids and families incredibly weary of and damaged by war, yet willing to go where the Army sends them for the sake of their country. I’ve seen through the eyes of Germans caught between thinking American soldiers are manufactured “killing machines” and their friends.  I’ve seen through the eyes of American soldiers who go proudly to a war they disagree with because it’s what they signed up for and well, they have “orders.” I’ve seen through the eyes of citizens of a country humbled by the holocaust and envious of the patriotism of Americans.

I no longer think America is the sh**, but yet I am more proud then ever to be an American. I’m proud that fear didn’t get the best of us on 9/11. That we have services and memorials to remember and commemorate that day and we let it turn us into patriots instead of fearful people. I’m proud of the men and women and families who have faced the fear of war, moving to new places, losing friends and family, and suffered courageously in many different ways for these last 12 years. And I no longer fear what’s going to happen because I have learned to not put my faith in a country or a president or guns. Maybe Germany doesn’t have it all together, but neither does America. This is why we need a Savior.

A bunch of people in Jesus’ day didn’t believe he was the prophesied “Messiah” because he didn’t come in guns (or swords) blazing to take over the world and protect people from the “evil” government. I wonder, are we acting any differently today? Refusing to put our faith in Jesus but instead in our government and in our country? We freak out if anyone threatens to take away our guns, our country’s security, our confidence in our country’s leadership…I tend to do that and from the looks of my Facebook feed, so do many of you. We are motivated by fear.

At our Czech Republic Service Project this summer, I stood up with 2 of my American teenagers and led the popular Sunday School song “He’s Got The Whole World In His Hands” in a circle of little Czech children who eagerly did the hand motions and sang loudly. It was enough to make you cry just at the cross-culturalness of it all. Yet, I don’t even know if they knew what they were singing since they didn’t really speak English.

Do we know what we’re singing?

Do we have the faith to sing a song like that? I feel like I get scared about one thing or another about, oh, every 5 seconds. I literally have to remind myself every 5 seconds of the truth in a Sunday School song, that’s how fearful I am naturally. However, what happens when I am able to stop, look my fear in the face, and remind myself of that truth, is in Philippians 4:7: “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

God said “do not fear” 365 times in the Bible. There’s a reason.

Bonus: I’m loving this song right now. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qOkImV2cJDg

EDIT: A good friend told me that “do not fear” is actually mentioned more than 100 times, not 365. Source here. Same principle, still applies.