Lauren Casper » Embracing the Story

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I was eleven years old when two terrorist blew up the Oklahoma City federal building on April 19, 1995. I grew up in a home without a television and I don’t remember the radio playing much. It was mostly Raffi CD’s, James Taylor, Carol King, and a few of my Dad’s Led Zepplin tracks mixed in. My siblings and I learned about current events from my parents and in terms we could understand and digest.

So when I went to school April 20th I was shocked to hear my classmates saying words like “bomb” and “bloody” and “blown up” as they talked about buildings and trucks and babies. Finally, our teacher decided to have a classroom conversation instead allowing a room of fifth graders to continue one upping each others stories about what they had seen and heard on the television the night before. So she invited us to raise our hands and share what we were thinking and feeling.

I listened to my peers for a few minutes and felt my hands get clammy and my blood run cold. My heart pounded in my chest and I wanted to close my eyes and ears to all that was being said around me. I left my seat and walked up to my teacher and asked to leave the room. She sent me to the nurse’s office and they called my mother.

When my mom arrived at school I climbed into the passenger seat of our new Windstar minivan and we sat silently for a few minutes. Then I asked my mom what happened and she told me plainly, but without all the graphic descriptions my classmates had used. Then we sat for a bit longer as I digested terror for the first time in my life. I couldn’t do it. I was horrified and frightened. So my mom said, “We can pray. Do you want to?” I nodded.

I don’t remember the pray or how I felt after. I just know that stuck with me. When terror became real to me, and I couldn’t process it and fear ran through my veins, my mom came to me and we prayed.

Four years later my dad was deployed and two teenagers shot up Columbine High School.  I was a freshman in High School and once again that feeling of horror washed over me as I tried to close my eyes and ears to the news. I didn’t call home, but I wanted to. I didn’t sit in the school parking lot to pray with my mom. This time I went looking for my older sister in the halls of our High School. I just wanted to be near her while I tried to make sense of it… I couldn’t.

This too familiar scene has played out over and over again. Senseless violence and acts of terror crash down on innocent families who were simply living their daily lives one moment and in the next are either dead, maimed, wounded, or forever traumatized. And we watch it, helpless and confused from our televisions, computer screens, and smart phones. Terrorism does exactly what it intends – injects fear into the hearts of the world. I am not immune and I cannot make sense of it because it doesn’t make sense.

But I have learned this: we don’t have to pretend we’re not afraid because fear is nothing to be ashamed of. I just do for me and my family what felt necessary and right when I was a frightened child in the passenger seat of my parent’s minivan…

I seek out my people and move closer to them. My daughter left her room multiple times last night because she needed water, then a snack, then one more story, then she had a bad dream. And what would usually frustrate me brought comfort. I wanted to be close, to snuggle her, to gather her to me.

We pray. What, I don’t always know. “Jesus be near.”  Or simply, “Help.”

We repeat the cycle together because there are no shortcuts or easy answers to how we respond to terror. But I want my children to know that when they are afraid they can come to me and look to God. That their fear will never be belittled by their mother or turned away by their Creator. That their confusion is normal and that as long as I’m able I will continue to gather them close and utter heartbroken prayers with them.

Last night I watched my twitter feed explode with images of children smiling for the camera and words that didn’t match. Things like, “This is my sister. She was at the arena and she isn’t answering the phone. Please share until we find her.” Over and over and over these messages poured out for sisters and friends and sons and cousins. And I felt the panic and terror and trauma of each one.

As I held my daughter to me I prayed, “Help. Help them find each other.” Because right now that’s all I want for every family with a loved one who was at the arena in Manchester. I want them to be united with their people.

But twenty two families won’t be united this side of heaven. All I have for this senseless, evil fact is the broken cry, “Jesus be near.” 

I don’t thank God it’s them instead of me – I grieve and wish it hadn’t been any of us.

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I don’t know how I thought I’d feel when this week finally arrived. I’ve been waiting for it for what feels like forever. I’ve dreamed and hoped and waited and worked and reworked and now the day has finally arrived.

It’s Okay About It is the product of more two years of love-filled labor. Today it is sitting on shelves in bookstores and arriving in your mailboxes and being held in hands from coast to coast. It’s overwhelming in the best way.

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Today I am celebrating in extraordinary and ordinary ways. Today I wake up earlier than my tired body wants to. I groggily pad out to the kitchen and take long sips of freshly brewed coffee. I sat with the kids at the breakfast table and wonder for the 183rd time at the level of energy and exuberance they radiate at 6:30am. The dog chased a squirrel up a tree and then run inside to slurp up breakfast bits that have fallen “on accident” from the table.

It’s all so ordinary and normal. It’s the typical start to a Tuesday with a preschooler and kindergartner. Except today isn’t typical. Today waiting for me on that table was beautiful orange and blue flowers and balloons from my husband. And today after the flurry of packing lunch boxes, wrestling clothes onto wiggly bodies, tying shoes onto feet that don’t want to remain still for more than a nanosecond, and then finally getting out the door… after dropping the kids off at their schools with three or four kisses and a few enthusiastic waves we’ll do something extraordinary.

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My husband and I will drive to a bookstore.

We’ll step in side and find the shelf that will have a handful of little blue and orange books lined up with my name on the binding. Oh my goodness. I will not be cool or calm or collected. I will be giddy, or maybe I’ll cry. I will have ALL THE FEELINGS! And we’ll just keep celebrating all throughout the day because my book is finally launched out into the world.

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We’ll be celebrating online, too, and I’d love to have you join me today! This book wouldn’t be here without you, dear readers, and I am so grateful for each and every one of you. Here are a few ways you can join in the online celebration of the launch of It’s Okay About It

  • Head on over to your local bookstore and snap a picture of you with the book. Post it on social media and let me know where you took the picture. Don’t forget to use the hashtag #ItsOkayAboutIt so I can find your post! While you’re there, grab a copy for yourself or a friend!
  • Did you pre-order a copy! Share when your happy mail arrives by posting a picture of you with your brand new book! And of course, hashtag #ItOkayAboutIt
  • Tell me where you find inspiration and encouragement in daily life. This can be a whole blog post, a few lines on twitter, Facebook, or instagram… anything you want it to be! Just don’t forget to mention that we’re celebrating the launch of It’s Okay About It and use the hashtag #ItsOkayAboutIt so I can find you!
  • Got a better idea? YAY! Can’t wait to see what you come up with!

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Thank you so much for all your love and support… and mostly, for READING!!! I wrote this book for you and I can’t wait for you to read it!

(And head on over to my Facebook page for a video of my kids helping me open my box of books… and their expressions of disappointment that they weren’t books by Mo Willems. They keep me humble, that’s for sure!) 😉

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Today I took my kids on a mini road trip to the strip mall about an hour away. We had lunch and got a few things they needed and a special treat each. On the drive home the sun was getting lower in the sky and the voices of two dear friends singing “It Is Well” flowed through my speakers. Out of nowhere my mind drifted back to some of the hard things we’ve walked through. I guess it’s become a habit for me – when life gets painful and difficult, I think back. We’ve been to a version of this place before. The sun set, but it also rose again.

My mind wandered through miscarriages and fertility testing… phone calls that crushed dreams and broke hearts. I thought about my baby boy in an Ethiopian hospital and the nights I cried myself to sleep afraid the morning would come and he would be gone. I thought about hospital visits and surgeries and diagnoses. I thought about the few weeks a three summers ago when we let our minds consider the possibility of our daughter having cancer. I thought about lies being revealed and trust being broken and relationships fracturing and life turning inside out.

I drove down the highway listening to my sweet friends sang “It is well… with my soul…” while hot tears fell and I swallowed hard. Is it really well with my soul?

It’s Good Friday. We call it “good” because hindsight is a special gift and we know what grew from the horror of the cross. We know that from death we were given life… first the burial, then the rising. Redemption was given new meaning. But on that first Friday there was nothing good to be seen. It was simply crushing.

I try to put myself in their sandals – the disciples, Mary, and the ones who loved and followed Jesus. They must have been shocked by the turn of events. The story seemed to be headed in a different direction. They watched miracles unfold before them. They walked side by side with God’s own Son and recognized him as such. But this didn’t feel like victory – the cross had defeat and devastation written all over it. They didn’t know Sunday was coming. They didn’t know that this unthinkable turn of events would last just three days. All they knew was the sting of death.

In this, I can relate to them well.

We live in a Good Friday world. We get these glimpses of Resurrection Sunday, but so often it feels as if we’re suspended in the three days between. It’s one long wait and everything is painful and confusing. Things that should be whole are broken instead. Life seems to be headed one way and suddenly we’re derailed by a phone call or a confession or a knock at the door. We’re frightened, heartbroken, and tired. Sunday seems so far off because we don’t know when it’s coming.

Good Friday is about pain and brokenness and sacrifice and grief. It’s when everything that ever went wrong with the world came crashing down on one person, and those who loved him and walked with him weren’t exempt from pain. Neither are we.

But they were delivered from it. As will we.

Some wounds have been healed and some haven’t. Some trust has been restored and some is still broken. Some friendships have mended and some heartbreaks healed, but some are fresh and brand new. Sunday feels so very far away.

But someday Sunday is coming. It might not be in three days, but it’s coming. That is the hope we have and the truth I cling to. The disciples moved through those three days with grief and despair, not knowing that Sunday morning would come and with it the Son would rise. But them not knowing how everything broken would be made right didn’t make the hope of Sunday any less true. The resurrection was coming whether they understood it or not.

I hold on to that hope. I do not understand how God is going to redeem or restore the broken pieces in my life. I don’t know when he’s going to fix the fragments of my heart.

My tears might last through a very long night… but joy will come when the sun rises. (Psalm 30:5)

I suppose that’s why I look back. When things get hard, I need to remember. I need to remember the times that life seemed unbearable and confusing and hopeless. And I need to see how far we’ve come, what was pieced back together, and what was made brand new. Today holds new hurts and new fears.

Bombs are dropping.

Children are being gassed.

Families are drowning.

Churches are fracturing.

Neighbors are yelling over fences.

Hearts are breaking and lives are shattering.

Today is Good Friday. Resurrection Sunday feels so far off. But it’s coming.

 

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