I began writing this post back in June, just a week after we lost our third daughter, Juliette, at 20 weeks gestation. It’s one of the hardest things our family has gone through and something that is particularly heavy on our minds in the days leading up to her would-be due date, 10/10/10. And so, this post has been on my mind again and I thought it was a good time to finish it and publish it.
It’s been a tough few weeks to say the least. The details don’t really matter – I’m continually reminded that we’re not the first to go through rough times like these… and besides, that’s not what this post is about.
Instead, this post is about the people you get to know as you go through times like these. Better stated, this post is about the men I’d like to grow up to be like some day. Christian men of the United States Armed Forces. OK, for sure I’m making a gross generalization because I’m basing this opinion on three men in particular – and contrary to the title of this post they’re actually all Army men (although they could definitely “handle the Truth!“). But, they are men that I’ve seen extraordinary things from – even in the admittedly few hours I’ve gotten to spend with any of them.
As I’ve talked about in detail on a separate page, my wife and I went through a tough time in our marriage five years ago. During that time I traveled to West Point to visit a dear confidant who was teaching there at the time. I needed a weekend away to gain a new perspective on my junk and figure out how to finally, really “own” it all. Among the numerous things I experienced that weekend, one was a Saturday morning gathering held once a month called “Higher Ground” – a breakfast/worship/teaching gathering for the Christian men on post. The room was packed and there was nothing particularly “special” about the meeting from an agenda point-of-view. But I was an outsider (although none of the men made me feel that way at all) – and so in that short hour I saw something extremely rare and… well… beautiful. No, I wouldn’t call it beautiful in a room full of infantry.
There was a level of masculine respect and intimacy among these men of faith that I had never see in 10 years of being a Christian. There was no pretense, no favoritism, no outward barrier that kept things at the level of “see the game last night”. Instead, the men in this room clearly stated through their actions and (when needed) words, “we are brothers in Christ, I’ve got your back and I don’t have to impress you with anything else.” For days and weeks after being at West Point I just couldn’t get that out of my mind. I had never experienced it – even though I’d had some deep relationships with men at my church since becoming a believer.
I’ve spoken of it many, many times since that weekend…. always slightly puzzled at how these military men have such a unique bond when Christ is among them. I do not have a sociology degree (although I loved my freshman sociology class in college…. hmmmmm….) – but I think it has to exist simply because they share a very common lifestyle, with common threats, pains, joys and goals. They move every few years and have to set up shop again and re-integrate their family into yet another new environment. There’s no time to figure out if they can trust the guy across the street or rely on them to look out for their family and know that someone will drop everything if they’re in need of help. They don’t have five years to build that foundation. And so they show up and they serve because that’s what they’ve been training to do day after day – for years on end.
I suppose that’s probably why it’s easiest to see these men be such a great example of service to others. It’s the reason they look you in the eye and say, “if you need help with something give me a call – I’m just a few miles down the road”… and they mean it. They really, really mean it. And I don’t know what to do with that because it’s so rare. But I know I’m drawn to it because it’s real, genuine and so overflowing of God’s love – the kind of love that honestly makes me say, “I want to be like that.” I think, at least in the example of these three men, I see a simple example of Jesus’s love lived out in simple “real man” ways.
One other thought occurred to me recently after we had a picnic at the farm with two of these Army families. Even in the midst of a family life that’s always in transition and dad is often gone “on duty” – these families always have great kids and marriages. They’re not perfect and not without trial, but they are strong. Their children have a sense of purpose. They’re wives know they can trust their men. And together the family is close-knit and genuinely loves one another. I don’t think it’s a coincidence.
So, when I grow up I want to be more like these men – which I’m pretty sure means I’ll be a little more like Jesus, too. For that I’m thankful to have been blessed by these relationships. And I’m thankful for a Father that loves me enough to give me better, tangible expressions of being “doers of the Word.”