But then comes the picture of Ben. And it hits so incredibly hard.
Ben was the same age as me, even though he was a year behind me in school. He and his family had been missionaries in the Philippines when he was young so the first time I remember his family was when they were home on furlough and it was a really big deal.
I'm sure I've said this before, but Ben was my first crush. I never told him. And I never did anything about it. All my friends crushed on his older brother. But I just liked quiet, shy, smiling Ben.
There have been a lot of church families I've known that couldn't live up to the expectations that come with titles like "missionary" or "pastor." But this family wasn't one of them. Many years later, his mom would help me carry my infant to my car after church... help me get all of the baby stuff into my mess of a car. Never judging the young, chaotic mom. Never looking down. Offering nothing but kindness.
Just over three years ago, Ben was killed by an IED in Baghdad. He was 31. He never got to get married... never got to have kids and watch them grow... never got to grow old.
When he died, I was angry. It wasn't fair. His family gave up so much. Why did he have to be taken as well? As has happened many times in my life, I questioned my beliefs. It didn't make sense. It still doesn't make sense to me. But I have found some peace. At some point, I just had to realize that a person who had dedicated so much of his life to God would be horrified that his death brought up these kinds of questions. So, instead, I've tried to remember to be thankful that he was willing to sacrifice his life for people like me... And, more importantly, for people like my children.
So, this year, when his picture came up on the slideshow, I'll admit that I gasped and teared up. But then I put my arm around my daughter and told her all about this boy named Ben.