It was close to midnight and my husband and I were tidying up our home. I’m not really sure why we do this, but for some reason it makes us feel better if we can all come downstairs in the morning to neat and tidy and give our children the pleasure of systematically destroying it through the day. And then we repeat the routine the next night. I often survey the domestic landscape – the legos peppering the floor, the milk cup lying on its side dripping onto the carpet, the furniture-turned-into-fort, the toys trapped in hardened play dough, the strip of squeaking green goop from the $1 section at Target that became one with the carpet a few months ago. I usually frown and worry that people would judge our housekeeping, but deep down inside kind of feel that our home is meant to be lived in, not preserved as some kind of museum. It is the stains that speak to the life inside these doors- the colorful, incredible life our children bring to me each day.
On this particular night, I was wiping down countertops when I heard a sleepy and familiar call for “mama.” I immediately turned toward the stairs to see my little boy descending to find me. In his tiredness he reverted to his infant crawl and slid down the steps on his belly. Landing at the bottom, he pulled himself up and looked up at me with eyes longing to close again. One pajama leg had scrunched up above his knee. His white and green shirt had climbed and was resting over his sweetly protruding belly. His fantastic head of dark curly hair was flattened on one side and sticking straight up over his head. “Mama,” he repeated huskily, this time with the relief of something found as he held up his arms. I embraced this image while I bent down to lift him gently to me, taking a mental picture I hope to hold onto. I felt profoundly aware that this was how I will always remember him. He will be graduating from school, standing at the front of an aisle, receiving an award…he will be a 30 or 40 year old man before me and the image of him standing there as the picture of innocence in his little pajamas is the image that will flash through my mind. It is how I will always see him- as a little boy, a picture of innocence and perfection, and truly my heart walking around outside of me.
I have a close friend who hugged her grown son a few days ago, sending him off as he deployed with the military for the Middle East. I have ached for her, putting myself in her shoes as best I can at this stage in my life and imagining what it would do to my own heart to see my son off to such a destination- the longing, concern and deeply rooted fear that would overwhelm my heart. Her son became a father for the first time just two weeks before he was called to leave. As his family took him to the airport to begin his journey, a photo was snapped as he held his baby girl to say goodbye. She is so tiny, eyes closed and nestled comfortably inside the crook of his strong arm, his hand cupped around her head as he draws her close and places a kiss on the top of her small head. It is an absolutely beautiful picture that would make even the most composed of us melt. His little girl will treasure that photo and all it will say to her as time stood still for a revealing second.
I couldn’t stop staring at it. My husband’s face immediately softened. My sister immediately started to cry. What is it that we are responding to? It the vision of love, it is the beauty of new life and the protection of a father for his baby girl. It is the sadness we can feel for two lives so sweetly intertwined that must endure days apart. And it was ultimately a response to the price of freedom. I think perhaps we tend to talk of the price of freedom as the lives lost and the billions expended. But this picture is the ongoing price of freedom- the sacrifice that an individual, their newborn child, their husband or wife, their mother, father, husband or wife, siblings and anyone who loves them makes for the many freedom serves. This soldier will be away from his little girl, imagining moments he longs to witness, for what I do get to see and experience- for the priceless fact that my children go to sleep at night surrounded by peaceful quiet rather than the sounds of fear. So that when my son wakes from a nightmare I can assure him that there really aren’t any “mean guys” close by. So that they can have big yet possible dreams of the opportunities life may offer. So that I can be planting a new garden with my son and showing him how exciting it can be to watch a cucumber grow.
I want to thank this man and his family. To the soldier himself, thank you for traveling away from those you hold dear to protect something you believe in. To his daughter, for the rests in the crook of your father’s arm you will miss; to his wife, for your courage, for managing both the day and night shift, for sacrificing sharing the days with your partner for a time, and for taking note of the details for all that happens in your life and the life you have built together so you can paint him a picture each day; to his siblings for sharing one who will always be one of the dearest friends you will know; to his father for the example, nurturing and participation that contributed to taking him from an impressionable boy into a man you admire. And to his mother, whose mind’s eye must travel instantaneously and ceaselessly between a toddler in his pajamas and vulnerability to a man in his uniform and conviction. Thank you for supporting his call even when it means spasms for your heart, as it walks around outside of you in a far away and uncertain land for now.
As I considered the ongoing cost of freedom, it occurred to me that there has only ever been one exception. This is Holy Week, the days leading up to Good Friday. The Christian faith remembers this day as the day Jesus went to the cross to pay the price for our ultimate freedom. It was a redemption from brokenness- from transgression and the darkness in humanity, offering us instead reconciliation with our Creator and intended purpose. And it is the only freedom that has ever been entirely secured in a single act. It does not require others continue to sacrifice to preserve what was won. It cannot be dissolved by any future act. It is won.
On the cross Jesus alone paid the ultimate price for freedom, a freedom that reunites rather than separates. We are all tremendously indebted to the men and women who defend our physical existence and daily freedoms. It is also our beautiful reality that we have a Savior who offers our souls an ultimate freedom and a price that has been paid once and for all.