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Yesterday at church we blessed and sent another just-graduated-from-high-schooler named Kirby off to the Air Force. This has been an oft-repeated event during the last couple of years. It may be the lure of recruiters talking to these kids about getting schooling paid for that has them enlisting, or it may be a deep-held conviction that this is what they’re meant to do. Living right outside of Hill Air Force Base, we have a lot of career military families in our congregation. Kirby is from one of those families. He’s a great kid who also happens to play the cello like a dream. His special music at church will be sorely missed.

So when the time came, Kirby stood with Pastor Gary in the middle of the center aisle and all the folks who have watched him grow up, been a part of his life, mentored him in some way, moved to the center aisle as well laying a hand on Kirby or on someone who was laying a hand on Kirby, etc. Then, with all of us connected, Kirby was committed to God’s grace in this “new calling in his life.”

After that Gary’s sermon was about Paul (of the New Testament) following God’s calling in his life. And Gary’s prayer over Kirby kept rattling around in my head. “This new calling…” I was preoccupied with wondering if becoming a soldier can actually be a calling? How does one train for combat and still reconcile in their head and heart the idea they might have to take a life at some point? It’s a mystery to me.

The last song we sang is a favorite of mine. It expresses what’s in my heart about embracing others because we are all made in the image of God (and for me that means we are all blessed with the ability to feel emotions and the desire to be creative), and that God (whoever or whatever your perception of God is) loves his creations. The song is called Freely, Freely… The chorus says:

“He said, Freely, freely you have received;
Freely, freely give.
Go in my name and because you believe,
Others will know that I live.”

I couldn’t help but think of the words little differently, though, in light of Kirby’s departure on Tuesday. A calling to be a soldier? I am still trying to come to terms with it in my head.

I had to leave church for just a bit between the service and Sunday School to make a quick visit to one of our shut-ins who lives very close. By the time I got back, the second service had started and I was late for Sunday School class. But as I walked in the door, there sat Kirby’s mom Deb all alone in the foyer quietly crying. She was watching through the glass doors that separate the foyer from the sanctuary as Kirby played special music for the second service.

It took only a second for that song to come floating back to my mind and I thought, what do the words mean to Deb this morning. Kirby was Wayne and Deb’s only son, only child, and I already knew she was really struggling with the “freely, freely” part. When I had talked to her after the service Deb had squeezed my hand so tightly I nearly pulled away. It felt for all the world like I was watching a woman giving birth. And I suppose in a way it was.

Sometimes it’s not easy to give love with no strings attached. And yet that is what our faith calls us to do. To love all people freely and unconditionally — contrary to what we hear so much about in the media.

I figured Sunday School could just wait for a while longer. There was someone right here in front of me whom I’d been called to this specific moment to love…

Love joyfully given