Tuesday, 29 April 2008

"Do You Wanna Take My White Puppy?"

As I write this, I am looking at my favorite picture taken of us when I was on leave in March (see "Family Pic"). My wife Jen, my 3 year-old son and my 5 year-old daughter were standing at the top of the Harbor Town Lighthouse on Hilton Head. Jen is standing there with a big smile—happy that I’m home finally, after 10 months of deployment. I have a huge grin on my face as well, excited to be with them. As I look at the kids, I see many lessons that I have learned over this deployment. My son is scared stiff—tightly holding onto my leg with both hands clasped. Maybe he is scared to death to be at the top of the lighthouse on a windy day. He doesn’t want to let go of Daddy for fear of what may happen. This is not new for him. He now knows what it is like for me to be gone and can't stand the thought of me not being there. When I got off the plane and walked into their arms a week before, he just grabbed on and wouldn’t let me go. This is far different from his reaction to my leaving. At that time, surprisingly, he was the strong one.

I remember the day I left, I was crying, Jen was crying--and it was our kids who comforted us! My son has a little stuffed dog he calls “my white puppy.” He cannot sleep without his white puppy. He takes it with him like Linus with his blanket, everywhere he goes. When he saw me struggling with tears the day I left he said the sweetest thing any kid has ever said, “do you wanna take my white puppy?” Jen and I laughed and then cried all the more. God used him to bring comfort and humor in our lives when we needed it most. My daughter was also strong. She said, “its OK, we’ll be here for mommy.” Neither of my children understood how long Daddy would be away. They didn’t know how many nights of crying and missing their Daddy were ahead of them. But they had a compassion and empathy for our sadness and they were willing to give up their most prized possessions to make me feel better. I learned that day that I was more important to my son than even the white puppy! I learned that he was willing to give up his own comfort in order to comfort me! That day, both of our children fulfilled the commandment, “Honor your father and your mother.” How privileged I am to be their father!

During leave, I spent as much time as possible playing with them, rolling in the floor, sword fighting with the foam swords I bought from the toy store, camping in the back yard, riding bikes out front, going to school to pick up my daughter, dyeing Easter eggs, playing hide-n-seek—doing those things that I wanted so much to do when I was gone. When I left again, at the end of leave, my daughter knew that it would be a while. She cried. We all cried. And the kids are still having a hard time getting used to Daddy being gone.

As our days on this deployment come to a close and as we begin to develop the expectations of our wonderful reunion, we all must remember to invest time and effort in connecting and loving and teaching our children. I will never regain the time that I have spent away from them, but I can make every moment with them, from here on out, count. If you love them, they will offer honor to you—maybe even, in the form of a white puppy.

Monday, 21 April 2008

Hateful or Grateful?

In chapel services here at COP Apache, I am preaching through the Gospel of Luke. Last night we were on chapter 23 and I was fascinated by the contrast that the story shows between the attitudes of the two criminals crucified on either side of Jesus. One guy was hateful. The text says in verse 39,

"One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: "Aren't you the Christ? Save yourself and us!" (NIV)

Now, to the sarcastic unbeliever, this may not sound as if this man is being that hateful, after all, he's just going along with the crowd (see preceding verses 35-37). And this crowd was only repeating what Jesus had already claimed: that He was the Christ of God, the Messiah, the King of the Jews. What a great opportunity for Jesus to prove His power! Come off the cross and spare us the death! But that is hateful thinking. For the power to cheat death is vastly inferior in comparison with the power to conquer death. Jesus remained on the cross and remained true to His mission. His conquering death, though not immediate, was, indeed, a most powerful expression of his power.

The hateful criminal had no genuine trust or belief in Jesus or in His power. His state of unbelief meant that he had no desire for confession, no desire for repentance and no hope for the future. Judgement was his only inheritance.

In contrast to the hateful, the other criminal was grateful. Verse 40-42, "But the other criminal rebuked him.

"Don't you fear God," he said, "since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong." Then he said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom."

This second criminal began to trust and believe in Jesus and his message. This belief lead to a confession, which lead to his repentance, which gave him a hope for the future. In reply to his conversion, verse 43, "Jesus answered him, "I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise."

When it comes to Jesus who is the Christ, the Messiah, and King of the Jews, and His power, on which side are you--grateful or hateful?

Sunday, 6 January 2008

The Five-Lettered "D" Word


Death--there, I said it.

I suppose we enjoy ignoring this word and its usage due to our desire for it to just disappear. After all, it reminds us of what we have lost, what we are grieving, and what used to be. Death is something we do not want to talk about because it seems so final, so unfair, and so in-the-future. But it is not any of those things. So I thank God today, for the very next breath He gives me, for His righteous justice, and for His ongoing blessing of abundant, eternal life.

Death is more familiar with me now. I suppose it comes with the nature of my current ministry. Six of my soldiers have died, to date, since my arrival at 3-7 CAV in September of 2006. Death from an automobile accident, death from medication taken for injuries sustained in combat, death from an Improvised Explosive Device, death from suicide, and finally, death from--apparantly--natural causes--these are the 'causes' as we label them.

In some of these deaths, the "whys" are not clear--and, perhaps, never will be. But even if we knew all the "whys" it would not provide us with the comfort we seek. Certainly, knowing at least a little of the "why" helps us to move on. It helps us, at least, to suppress the pain of grief for the moment. When we know that death resulted from an attack by a literal enemy, for example, we have someone to blame, someone to be angry at, some other focus rather than the hurt and loss. Anger is preferable to sadness in that it is something we feel we can have some measure of control over. Men especially feel that anger is a more appropriate response to death. However, that sense of control is deceptive. Anger is not easily controlled. Sometimes, the anger is turned inward, sometimes the anger is bottled up, sometimes it is vented in inappropriate acts. All of these situations can have disasterous consequences. We are told, and I concur, that anger is a part of the grieving process--along with shock, denial, depression, acceptance, and adjustment. To be sure, God has not promised us a life without pain or grieving, what He has promised, rather, is to be with us. In Psalm 46, the Psalmist writes, "God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore, we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging. The LORD Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress" (NIV). He has ALSO promised, in Psalm 23 that HE, "restores my soul." Without Him, I don't know how anyone could go on.

Perhaps this new familiarity with death is due to my age. Gone is the blissful ignorance of knowing only the old people in my life who died. People closer to me are facing and experiencing death. My father passed after his second battle with cancer in May of 2005. I remember feeling two equally intense emotions at his death. Two so equally intense emotions that they put each other in check for an entire year. At first, I didn't know what it all meant. I could not even articulate the problem. Sure, I was sad at the occasion and missed my father dearly--but I knew there was something happening inside of me that I needed to have some time to work out in my grief. At the first anniversary of my father's death, it came to me like a lightening bolt out of the blue sky. At his death, I witnessed something that was at the same time most beautiful and most horrible. The "horrible" was the effects of death and sin. The ending of this life and the suffering of the sinful nature. The "beautiful" being the transition from this sinful realm into the realm of GLORY. The "horrible" was over. My earthly father had crossed over to be with God--nothing is more beautiful than that. Realizing this on a spiritual level gave me the 'restoration of my soul' that I am sure the Psalmist is writing about. I can not imagine traveling this path without the Great Shepherd leading me.

Is death a five-lettered "D" word to you? If so, seek the help of the Great Shepherd. Jesus said, "learn of me...and you will find rest for your soul."