It had been a rough deployment.
Supersoldier was on sandbox trip No. 3, and I was home alone raising a 2-year-old who, from the day his father left until the day his father returned, had had his body snatched by evil temper-tantrum inciting aliens. I was on a professional and emotional high from writing and launching my very first book and personally seriously bummed that the man who had held my hand throughout the entire process couldn’t be present to enjoy the fruits of his hard work (and his 1.5 million hours of late-night listening) with me.
Then, one month into the deployment, I miscarried our second baby, the one we had been trying for all six months between deployments to conceive. And I turned into one hot up-and-down emotional mess.
Amid the chaos and the heartache and my total devastation, all I wanted was to curl up in the lap of my favorite man ever and just be held. I missed my best friend, I missed my partner in crime, I missed the man who put everything into my life into perspective and, when he grabbed my hand and looked into my eyes, really did make me feel like, no matter the circumstances, everything would be okay. My heart just ached for that man in ways it had never known. And I would have given a kidney to have him present in that season.
It was in the midst of this intensive longing to just be with my husband that an acquaintance of mine brought up her husband’s busy travel schedule.
“He’s going to be gone for an entire week this time!” she complained. “I mean, I know your husband is gone for months at a time, but that would almost be easier than this in-and-out stuff my husband is doing right now. He works so late! The kids barely get any time with him before bed.”
Can I just confess that, as I stood there still bleeding from a miscarriage I had endured alone, holding the hand of my 2-year-old son who had not seen his daddy in a month and who only got to speak to him on the phone once or twice a week, my first response was less, “Oh, sweet girl!” and more “Oh, sweet Jesus, sew my lips together NOW!”?
Facing the trials of this life is HARD. It’s demanding. It’s downright GRUELING.
But, if I’m just being real about the wicked nature of this selfish heart, facing the challenges of this life while maintaining compassion for others has been possibly my biggest struggle in 12 years of military life.
It is TRYING to send your husband on a plane to a location you might not know for an amount of time that may still be undetermined on a mission that you know could yield casualties and PTSD … and still pray for the woman who is worried about her husband’s safety. As he flies home from San Francisco.
It is TOUGH to know that your husband missed the birth of your second son … and still be compassionate to the woman who won’t forgive hers for missing their second birthing CLASS.
And it is downright EXHAUSTING to spend every day as a single parent, every meal with an empty seat, every night with tear-stained pillows from superheroes who miss Daddy and hearts that hate to be separated … and still be sensitive to those who complain when their spouses miss out on the bedtime routine two nights in a row.
Compassion — it costs something. It costs my patience. It costs my pride. It costs me putting aside ME in order to love OTHERS with the same love God constantly lavishes upon ME.
But what God has taught me, and what He still reminds me of every time I rush to bust out my measuring stick to measure the size of other people’s problems against the size of mine, is that God has not asked me to love others … who have it harder than me.
He has not asked me to love others … who are facing trials more severe than mine.
He has not asked me to love others … who have what I assess as “legitimate” reasons to grieve.
He’s asked me simply to LOVE. With HIS heart. With HIS hands. With HIS compassion — the compassion that moved Him to give his very own son to die for me, not when I was perfect, not when I had it all together, not when I was strolling along doing military life beautifully, comforting every woman facing missing-husband lunchtime woes — but when I was still a hot mess. When I was still a selfish brat. When I was still busy throwing the pity party and throwing cake at all the people who thought THEIR parties were more important than mine.
And He doesn’t just ASK me to love; He COMMANDS me to love (John 13:34-35, John 15:12).
Because love covers over a multitude of sins (1 Peter 4:8).
Because love is from God (1 John 4:7-10).
Because love IS God.
And more importantly, He gives me the PRIVILEGE to love. To love others the way that He and so many others have loved ME. To offer my ear and my heart and my energy and my comfort when someone is experiencing a trial that I well know. To bust out my crockpot and put away my measuring stick when a friend is struggling through her husband’s week-long business trip. And to use my OWN pain not as a tool to make other people’s problems look insignificant but as a utensil to help me love them through their own pain WELL.
So that I can channel the fresh memories and experiences and feelings and trials I’ve combated over nine deployments and 12 years of military life into a heartfelt, life-giving, encouragement-lavishing kind of love. The kind of love that SEES a need and swaps the scale for the sympathy. The kind of love that seeks out those whose situations might be different but whose FEELINGS about those situations are the same. The kind of love that puts aside SELF to sacrificially and honestly and earnestly SERVE when someone, ANYONE, is experiencing pain or loss.
Because in any given moment, pain and loss and frustration and heartache often feel the same, even if they’ve come by way of different circumstances.
And it is HERE, when I’m holding the hand and drying the tears of a sweet friend who is FEELING that pain or loss or frustration or heartache, that God can redeem my OWN pain. And He can turn it from a point of BITTERNESS to a point of BLESSING.
He can redeem it. He can re-use it. And He can even restore ME THROUGH it.
The reality is that someone will always have it harder than me.
To a woman who has been through 11 or 13 or 15 deployments (and friends, I have SEVERAL of these), my measly nine don’t look like a reason to fret.
To a woman whose service member is still deployed for a year at a time, my little business trips seem inconsequential.
To a single mama raising six superheroes by herself for life, my three for short seasons at a time don’t look like anything I shouldn’t be able to handle.
And to a woman who is now raising her children alone because her husband arrived home not in the back of a military plane but in the hollow vestiges of a flag-draped coffin, my stress and my pain and my frustrations look like PRIVILEGES. Because they would mean that HER husband would still be around to experience them.
We ALL have a story. We ALL have trials. We ALL have our own battles, our own frustrations, our own challenges. And what God is teaching me is that my measuring stick doesn’t do anything to be His hands and feet. My measuring stick only inadvertently measures the size of MY HEART — a heart willing to show compassion only to those whose circumstances I assess as more dire than mine.
I don’t want to live a life of selective compassion. I don’t want to walk in this world weary of the wounds of others. I want to be an encourager. I want to be a life giver. I want to be a bringer of COMFORT and PEACE and LIFE and JOY. Not a bringer of reminders of my own battle wounds.
I want to be the FIRST one my friends call when they miss their husbands. When they’re experiencing grief. When they’re experiencing loss.
And I want to know that they will walk away not feeling beaten over the head by the baseball bat of my experiences, but with the encouragement and empowerment that the same Jesus who has carried me will also carry them, no matter their trial, no matter their circumstances.
I want to be the HANDS and FEET and HEART and MOUTH of sweet, compassionate Jesus.
And I can’t do that if the only thing I can see is my own history. No matter what kind of history that might be.
God, replace any contempt with compassion and any bitterness with a heart hungry to BLESS.
Redeem my loss. Redeem my pain. Redeem my experiences so that they can be spent in the currency of LOVE for others.
Shut my mouth and open my heart and transform this selfish girl into a compassion-breeding, love-lavishing, generosity-giving tool whose heart beats with one sound — the sound of YOURS for OTHERS.