The Lake men don’t have that gene that makes you scared of interactions with strangers. Everyone is our friend.
Even that dude at the airport hogging the wall outlet.
“Hey man, can I charge my phone?”
I did need to charge my phone, but we also had a while to wait until boarding the plane, and I’m the kind of person that would rather make a friend during the wait rather than plug in the headphones and zone out (well, sometimes at least).
I noticed this dude, who had biceps that were (individually) bigger than my head, was wearing the HE>i brand. “Dude, I love HE>i!”
And thus, big bicep dude became my newest friend.
I figured there was a story behind his endorsement of HE>i, and soon, we were talking about our faiths and what God was doing in our lives. I told him I was going home to Wyoming for the summer after driving my girlfriend back to California, where she would live for the summer. We’d be apart for the next three months.
Big ‘ceps one-upped me. Hard. He’d been in the military since college and had been married for six years, but he and his wife had spent much of that six years apart because she was serving, too, and they were stationed in different places. I couldn’t imagine the difficulty of that reality.
The next two hours became the most life-giving two hours on a plane I’ve ever experienced. The military man and I talked about God and life, dove into the Word together, even prayed together. He encouraged me about my long distance relationship, spoke truth over me, inspired me to be a good man…a man as good as him. I was in awe of the mature words that flowed from his mouth, the absolute peace and strength with which he carried himself. And this was a guy enduring what I thought sounded like the daily torture of living across the country from the woman he loved so much.
He spoke of being able to move back under one roof with his wife. It was just weeks away. He could hardly contain his joy, but it was a measured joy – he knew there would be a lot of adjustments to make in what was basically a new relationship with his wife. A relationship that would be housed in one location for the first time in years.
He gave me his email address and we exchanged pleasantries as we left the plane. I was pretty sure I’d never see the military man again, but I thought it was amazing that God brought two strangers together and made them brothers over the course of one flight. From total strangers to instant brothers. That’s the family of God.
Fast forward a few weeks/months, and a package showed up at my house. It was from the military man. He had sent me his two favorite books about relationships. The military man cared.
We exchanged emails, and I told him I hoped things were going well since he moved back in with his wife. Some difficult adjustments, he said, but it seemed things were going well in general.
Life happened, and I didn’t talk to the military man for at least a year. I was finishing up grad school in Wyoming and then on to a new job in Denver. I was in a serious relationship with my girlfriend. He was probably soaking up his new life across the country, probably starting a family.
I heard a message at church a few weeks ago and it reminded me of that flight I shared with the military man. Did I still have his email address? Sure did.
“How are you doing, man? I was in church this morning and the sermon reminded me of that flight we shared. That meant a lot to me. It’s cool how God unites strangers and makes them brothers. How have things been going with your wife? Hope you both are doing well. Peace.”
I got a response a few days later.
“Agreed, man. That was so cool when God brought us together on that flight. It’s cool how the Holy Spirit works in those ways…”
I was shocked when my eyes met the next few lines of his email.
“Things were really hard…
NO! Not the military man! He was so strong…in every sense of the word. This can’t be possible. The military man? Divorce? How? My heart dropped. He had some deep words about it.
“I don’t know if you have experienced divorce in your family or close friends but the closest thing I can describe it to is death…but you can still reach the other person by picking up your phone. Hard and confusing.”
“Woah,” I thought. “That’s heavy.” My heart hurt for him.
The truth is, a few months earlier, my own serious relationship had ended after a long period of struggle. I was stunned at his divorce, but I felt his pain. My broken relationship wasn’t divorce, but it was still broken. I had seen a side of myself I’d never seen before…one that could be pretty ugly at times. Different paths, long-distance, external factors beyond our control…it was more than we could bear. We called it off after almost two years.
Before I even knew of the military man’s divorce, I had shared with him about my own breakup when I sent him an email after being reminded of him. I was in the midst of the aftermath, and it was on my mind. And before my eyes met news of his divorce in his response email, he had encouraged me once again, just as he did on the flight a year and a half prior.
“Regardless if it was for the best, I am sure it was hard. I pray that God would comfort you and continue to give you hope in His goodness.”
Then the shocking news of the divorce. I couldn’t believe it. I thought his email would read, “please be praying for me as I’m trying to heal from this. It’s really tough.”
Basically, I was just expecting a big, fat, “THIS SUCKS.” And that would have been completely normal and understandable. That’s probably what I would’ve said had I been facing his situation.
I found something different. I found that the military man was experiencing the same thing as me.
“God gave me just what I needed each day walking through that desert,” he said. “By His grace (and very unexpectedly) He brought me to a new place emotionally and spiritually late this past fall. I feel like a completely different person in some ways. Eager for life. Hungry to be used to serve Jesus and others.”
My response was a big, fat, “ME TOO.”
The last few months have been nothing short of life-changing for me. When everything I thought I wanted was ripped away from me, I thought I would be a hopeless wreck. And for a while, that probably would’ve been an understandable response.
By the unrelenting grace of God, I’ve been anything but.
The military man said it best: “The last 18-months have been a combination of surviving months and months in the desert without “water” and then arriving to a new oasis completely unexpectedly.”
My relationship was a daily fight to survive. You may have been there – you can feel it teetering, but you hang on because you KNOW there’s something good, something worth fighting for. And sometimes, it just doesn’t work out. Though at completely different levels, the military man and I both experienced it.
What’s supposed to follow is immense pain. Emotional brokenness. Emptiness. Loneliness.
What followed for me has been the unexpected oasis. An oasis where the water flows stronger than any place I’ve ever been…an oasis of Living Water that is feeding my soul everything it needs and more.
By breaking my relationship, God pointed me away from the empty well where I’d been lugging my water pail. In turn, He has gracefully pointed me in the direction of the only water source that has a deep enough supply to meet the needs of my sinful and weary self: HIMSELF.
Transcendent and inexplicable peace – the kind Paul speaks of in Philippians 4:7 – has been the result.
Just a few months removed from the loss of a relationship I thought would last forever, God has shown me – as He has done so many times before – that He gives His children immeasurably more than they can ask or imagine. He’s provided me a new spark for life, a new hunger for Him. He’s blessed me with new opportunities, new friends, and open doors. He’s shown me (and keeps showing me) how lost I was without Him on the throne of my heart.
The flame that has been flickering inside me for the last two years has been rekindled into an absolute raging fire. Just like the military man, I’ve unexpectedly discovered a new hunger for Jesus and a new desire to glorify Him with my life. As I press into Him each day, He stokes the flame with His ever gentle yet supremely powerful breath of life. He’s revealing a new sense of calling on my life and a burning desire to reach the world for Jesus Christ.
I haven’t written in a while. I haven’t spoken out in a while. That’s because I haven’t felt like myself in a while. I’ve been wandering. I’ve been unsure of my life. I’ve been anxious. I’ve been controlled by fear.
“There is no fear in love, because perfect love casts out fear.” – 1 John 4:18
The perfect love of the Father has released me from fear and launched me at a rocket’s pace into my destiny. My passions are returning and my fire is burning. And this is just the beginning.
Before, I couldn’t sleep because I was so anxious. Now, I can’t sleep because I’m so excited about what God is doing in my life and I can’t stop worshipping. Restoration. Redemption. Renewal.
The military man knows what I mean. Strangers……….brothers.
Recently, I’ve been reading through the story of Job. How could God break a man so fiercely, taking away everything he thought he wanted?
I think we’re just not quite able to understand how insanely powerfully our God loves us. He disciplines those whom he loves. He takes away so He can give all the more.
“And he said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.” – Job 1:21
The Lord has taken away from me and the military man, but He has given all the more. If you’ve read Job, you know the end of the story – when Job emerged from the desert after cursing the day of his birth and enduring greater loss than any of us will probably ever know – God gave Job twice as much as He started with.
The Lord has taken away from me. He snatched everything I thought I wanted right out of my grasp. Same goes for the military man. But He’s given twice as much, if not more, in return.
The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away.
I think I can speak on behalf of Job and the military man when I finish the sentence:
Blessed be the name of the Lord.