I’m a mess this morning. I’m sitting in front of the computer in my denial pajamas, the same pajamas I had on yesterday morning until I was forced to put on my big girl pants fifteen minutes before it was time to leave the house.

Yesterday was the day of doom for the Faulkenberrys, the day we took our German to the airport, the day when love turned its beautiful, smiling face to one side and exposed its ugliness—the other side we knew was there and dreaded all along but mostly ignored during our happy golden days with Tim.

He checked in, our Berliner, marveling at the tininess and simplicity of the Ft. Smith airport, and then we all sat together in the otherwise empty waiting area trying not to be miserable. His flight was scheduled to leave at 10:16.

At 9:00 Tim said, “I better go through security at 9:15.”

“Okay,” we said.

We watched 9:15 go by.

“I’ll wait till 9:30.”

At 9:50 Harper said, “Tim. It’s 9:50.”

Tears flowed.

We stood on one side of security—the guards friendly, thank goodness; Arkansas, you make me proud–and watched Tim walk toward his gate. He waved back at us, the outline of his jaw set, his green eyes big and sad. He was excited too, though; after all, he was going home.  On the other side of the world, his family would soon see his face—the beautiful, shining face of love.

When the last inch of Tim disappeared, Harper headed to the bathroom and the girls and I stood in a circle and sobbed. The security guard offered us tissues. We made our way to the van where we waited, eyes on the sky for the plane we all hated. Grace, the closest to Tim, lifted her hand when she saw it take off. I snapped a picture. To me it looked like a prayer.

You can tell a lot about people, it seems, by where they go when they’re a mess. Legitimately unable to go back to school, Grace went first to the hammock, then to books—among them Franz Wright, Rainer Maria Rilke, Roy Lessin, and Harper Lee—then on a jog. When her friend Ethan came over they played guitar and laughed. Stella went to Granny’s. Harper spent the day in the woods and Adelaide played with her new puppy, Patch.  Dogs are healers.

I went to work.

That evening Stone baled hay. Harper brought in frog legs for me to fry. Grace played more guitar and sang Ed Sheeran songs while Patch worked his magic with Adelaide and Stella. We all tried not to look at the empty couch where Tim should be; long legs stretched out, shirtless, laughing at German jokes and translating them to us from his “tablet,” which is what we call an iPad.

Love is weird. The first Bible verse I ever learned tells me it’s God—God is love.  And the next one tells me it’s an action I should do—Love one another. (1 John 4:7-9) These are the simplest concepts of the New Testament. Three word sentences; easy enough for children to memorize. And they are truth. I believe them with my whole heart.

But, dang it, simple ain’t always easy. Sometimes, as in this case, it’s hard. Really, excruciatingly hard, and dangerous. I’ve been reminded of that as I’ve been grieving my Timmy, and watching my kids grieve in all of their own peculiar ways.

C.S. Lewis wrote, “To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken.” That’s exactly what it felt like to watch Tim pass through security to the other side where we couldn’t touch him anymore. To watch his plane take off and fly him away home.  It hurt like hell. But in those moments, according to Lewis, Heaven is near. “We shall draw nearer to God,” he writes in The Four Loves, “not by trying to avoid the sufferings inherent in all loves, but by accepting them and offering them to Him; throwing away all defensive armour.”

No wonder it feels like a prayer when I see my little girl’s arm raised to the sky, her posture open, defenseless. Offering her heart to be broken if that’s what it means to love. Accepting the pain because to avoid it would mean missing out on all of the joy, and she wouldn’t miss that for anything.

Across the ocean this morning a fifteen-year-old German sleeps in his own bed. He was brave enough to come here and love us, and accept the love we had to give. A German mother prepares his favorite meal, grateful all her chicks are back in the nest. She sends me pictures of them cuddling. Her heart was open enough to lend her boy to us for a season of living and learning. Our American family goes back to normal life, much less exotic now, but still beautiful and blessed. And like arms around the world, Love holds us all together Click To Tweet till we see one another again.

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