If only they knew how much it cost

I stood in front of eight hundred people clapping and cheering. And something inside me stirred, a movement of heart that was both a gasp of relief and a sigh of frustration.

It was over.

I had a little certificate.

A degree.

And I was looking into a sea of faces familiar and foreign.

To be read to the song  Saturn by Sleeping At Last – (Click here to listen)

Sleeping At Last
You taught me the courage of stars before you left.
How light carries on endlessly, even after death.
With shortness of breath, you explained the infinite.
How rare and beautiful it is to even exist.I couldn’t help but ask
For you to say it all again.
I tried to write it down
But I could never find a pen.
I’d give anything to hear
You say it one more time,
That the universe was made
Just to be seen by my eyes.

I couldn’t help but ask
For you to say it all again.
I tried to write it down
But I could never find a pen.
I’d give anything to hear
You say it one more time,
That the universe was made
Just to be seen by my eyes.

With shortness of breath, I’ll explain the infinite
How rare and beautiful it truly is that we exist.

I could hear Dezuwon in the crowd. He shouted my name. I had met him four years prior on a sleepy Adirondack island during summer camp. At first the old white dude inevitably seemed alien to a man who had came from the hard parts of the hood. Those cool evenings, we would argue and talk on a cabin stoop until eventually Dez would call me wise man.

I saw five students from Taiwan. Some who I had invested hours of my life into. Some who had came all the way from our little school in the bustling industrial city of Taichung. They left friend and family for this audacious God, the very God who said they would be rewarded if they left everything. The furiously crazy architect of the universe who came down and died for them. There was a bond that although it remained unsaid, I knew. It had cost them everything. Changing culture, religion, world, universe, to come and serve Jesus.

I looked out at the crowd, familiar faces, and good friends. Story after story.

I stood amongst the few guinea pigs who had tried this bizarre experiment. Send an American abroad for two years and learn to be part of a country and culture. Part of a ministry. For some it was a much needed experience in life. For some of us it had cost everything.

The lights burned and felt warm against my face. I fought back tears.

A hard earned pride stirred in with a feeling of utter alienation. I was so proud. Not the evil unbecoming pride that destroys family and friend. I was proud because I had finished. I had finished well and given up tears, sweat, and literal blood to stand in front of everyone. And I felt alienation. A few stark shining souls stood out amidst the crowd, they were bright lights. Shining faces. Campers, students, friends.

Some came to our school not knowing that a God loved them enough to become mortal and live through excruciating pain beyond what we will ever know. Some came to college thinking that they could never achieve more then the broken family and home they came from.

My throat became raw. And all I could think, with a half-finished grin and a deep breathe…

“If only they knew how much this cost me.”

If I had stood in that crowd and not looked out upon the faces of those few lives that my service to Jesus had helped change, I couldn’t fathom how strangely hollow that moment might have felt.

The smacking of hands together in a cacophony of sound as the only memorial to everything. Yet I knew the truth. Be it 12,000 miles away, or in the very crowd before me. I saw the cost. I counted the cost. And it was worth it.

Sometimes I feel mentally clogged. As if so much has happened in the last four years I cannot unpack it all and process the changes, the losses, the gains, and the highlights.

If they only knew.

Because for some of those looking upon me, I merely spent time abroad. Yet for me, it cost everything.

As a missionary I know what it is like to come home from a foreign land and be internally choked by the very weight of the experience. To never be asked what it was like. To never be thanked for what went on. The world spins madly on as we toil and serve and when we come back, home is different. The world didn’t stop because we were gone, and often the hardest part to understand is that our absence didn’t phase much of our old life into slowing down. It is a humbling moment. To realize how small in the whole scheme of things you really are.

I think of that often smeared and beaten apostle Paul. Lashed, ship wrecked, stoned, starving, abandoned. He went through so much. It cost him everything. At the end of his life, did he realize how much he had purchased with the blood of his faithfulness? That churches would spring up and the world be changed by that?

People generally don’t ask. Maybe they don’t know how to broach the subject. Maybe curiosity is something that they lack. Maybe it’s just intimidating to ask for these stories. Maybe it’s just a lack of understanding. Whatever it is…

You find that you come home. You live. You go on. You thrive and survive. And yet there is this wholly large part of my life unspoken for. A silence lingering over years of moments. A strange alienation between large swathes of past and the current familiar times.

I say all this because I woke up caught off-guard. Today is a holiday. A really important valuable one. Yet it snuck up on me. This is a sacred time to rejoice, weep, mourn, and thank the people who have given everything for us to live a life of freedom.

A day where we celebrate veterans, soldiers, support staff, families of those who serve, widows, and warriors.

In the movement of life, it is easy to forget. To take things for granted. To never celebrate, to never mourn, to never ask.

Around us walk so many men and women who have experienced something utterly incomparable to our daily lives. And I ask my self today…

How many feel that thought?

“If only they knew how much this cost…”

Do I realize the cost of my freedom? Do I realize this country was founded not in the peaceful co-existence of hippies but in the blood-stained fields of Concord?

This life we live. It cost us something. It STILL costs us something.

Some people have given more then we could fathom. From marriages, to best friends. People have lost the whole gamut of things worth having.

And it kills me to think that we don’t even try to celebrate or recognize that. To champion those people.

Today I realized I don’t know how much it costs. I can’t put myself in the shoes of soldiers and veterans.

I can merely stand next to them and understand what it was like to leave everything and have my world shattered for better and for worse.

And it challenged me. I work with veterans. I have family veterans. I am working with the children of veterans. And I guess the enormous magnitude of how much freedom, America, life without human rights violations… it didn’t come free.

And then I think of Jesus. If anyone knows what it is like to live a sacrifice. To live a thankless existence after giving up all.

He left the comfort of heaven to come here and shed His blood for our freedom. I can only hope when he looks upon us, we are bright lights, highlights of how it was all worth it in the end. Oh Jesus…

If only we knew how much this cost.

So I was challenged today, and if you don’t know how much it cost us to be free, I challenge you. Go find a veteran and thank them, ask them if you can pray, sincerely sit down and listen to stories. Ask questions, or just let them know you are grateful. It matters not where they went, whether they served in the Coast Guard or Navy Seals. Stateside or overseas. They chose to give up time and life for everyone of us. Buy them a meal. Give them a hug. Remember. Because it probably cost more then we realize.

And if you are veteran.

I wish I could say words that meant more. I wish I could help let you know how valuable what you have done is.  What I can say is. Thank you.

Thank you. Thank you. THANK YOU!

Thank you for everything it cost.
This was written out of love for some of the soldiers and veterans I know, Joel Corrales, Timothy Potts, Andy Hersman, Luke Fedukowski, Korban Bradshaw, Daniel Robbins, Daniel Hannah, James Taylor, Stover “Old Man Willow”, Vince Armfield, Daniel Brinke. There are so many people who have served to make this country a place of freedom. I just want to say thank you for everything you do to love and serve our country.     

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