A devotional to help military families stay connected during deployments

Taps

Written by Linda. Filed Under Marriage & Family

Excellent or Praiseworthy is posted on Monday and Thursday nights.

Where can I go from Your Spirit? Where can I flee from Your presence? If I go up to the heavens, You are there; if I make my bed in the depths, You are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there Your hand will guide me, Your right hand will hold me fast. — Psalm 139:7-10

For me, the story of “Taps” is a local story because I live close to where it was composed. I could easily drive to Berkeley Plantation in Virginia, where there is a monument marking the “birthplace” of Taps. Tour guides will tell you that the haunting 24-note bugle call is actually a revision of a French call to signal to the troops the end of the day and “lights out.” The story goes like this:

“In of July of 1862, in the aftermath of the bloody Seven Days battles (Peninsular campaign), hard on the loss of 600 men and wounded himself, Union General Daniel Adams Butterfield called the brigade bugler to his tent. . . .Oliver Wilcox Norton, the bugler, tells the story, ‘. . . showing me some notes on a staff written in pencil on the back of an envelope (some accounts say that Butterfield hummed it to Norton), (he) asked me to sound them on my bugle. I did this several times, playing the music as written. He changed it somewhat, lengthening some notes and shortening others, but retaining the melody as he first gave it to me. After getting it to his satisfaction, he directed me to sound that call for Taps thereafter in place of the regulation call. The music was beautiful on that still summer night and was heard far beyond the limits of our Brigade. The next day I was visited by several buglers from neighboring Brigades, asking for copies of the music which I gladly furnished. The call was gradually taken up through the Army of the Potomac.’” From “History of Taps.”

Not long after Taps was composed, it was used for the first time at a military funeral. Union Captain John Tidball, commander of an artillery battery, had it played for the burial of a cannoneer killed in action (during the Peninsular Campaign) because the traditional three rifle volleys fired over the grave might have alerted the enemy nearby. This event is commemorated in a stained glass window at The Chapel of the Centurion, also nearby at Ft. Monroe.

Ten months after it was written, Taps was played at the funeral of Confederate General “Stonewall” Jackson. By 1874 Taps was officially recognized by the U.S. Army and was required to be played at military funerals by 1891.

Taps is played throughout our nation on Memorial Day as it is traditionally sounded at funerals, wreath-laying, and memorial services. In order to honor those who died in service to our country, giving the ultimate sacrifice—Taps is played in remembrance of all of those who have insured our precious freedom. While we are hearing the strains perhaps you can also remember the words which are associated with the bugle call. While these lyrics are not “official,” the first verse is commonly sung with these words:

“Day is done, gone the sun,
From the hills, from the lake,
From the sky.
All is well, safely rest,
God is nigh.”

God is nigh. The definition of “nigh” is “near in space, time, or relation.” The American College Dictionary, 1955.

God is near:

You are near, O LORD, and all Your commandments are truth. — Psalm 119:151

The LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. — Psalm 34:18

But as for me, the nearness of God is my good; I have made the Lord GOD my refuge, that I may tell of all Your works. — Psalm 73:28

The LORD is near to all who call upon Him, to all who call upon Him in truth. — Psalm 145:18

Let your gentle spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near. — Philippians 4:5

The last verse of Taps, traditionally, is similar to the first verse:

“Thanks and praise, For our days,
‘Neath the sun, ‘Neath the stars,
‘Neath the sky,
As we go, This we know,
God is nigh.”

Is there any doubt in your mind and heart that God is near, during deployment? Even during the lowly conditions of war in 1862, God was there. Jari A. Villanueva is a bugler and bugle historian, considered the country’s foremost authority on Taps. He wrote: “.. . it is hard to believe that Butterfield could have composed anything that July in the aftermath of the Seven Days battles which saw the Union Army of the Potomac mangled by Lee’s Army of Northern Virgina. Over twenty six thousand casualties were suffered on both sides. . . . In the midst of the heat, humidity, mud, mosquitoes, dysentery, typhoid and general wretchedness of camp life in that early July, it is hard to imagine being able to write anything.” From 24 Notes that Tap Deep Emotions”.

But write it (or revise it) he did, and Butterfield’s desire to honor his soldiers is forever the way that we seek to honor our brave soldiers.

The Scripture from Psalm 139 is a reminder of what we declare in the singing of Taps. With a lump in our throats and perhaps tears in our eyes, we remember this Memorial Day, with grateful hearts, those courageous patriots who have gone before us in battle. . . . and we remember that our God is faithful . . . . and near.

Questions to Share:

1. What thoughts come to your mind when you hear Taps?

2. On this Memorial Day, is there someone who served our country whom you could tell your spouse about as a way of honoring them?

Note:  Additional information on Taps is available at www.tapsbugler.com

Excellent or Praiseworthy is posted on Monday and Thursday nights.

The LORD looks from heaven; He sees all the sons of men; From His dwelling place He looks out on all the inhabitants of the earth, He who fashions the hearts of them all, He who understands all their works. — Psalm 33:13-15

The inscription on the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington National Cemetery reads:
Here rests in honored glory an American soldier known but to God.”

Tomb of the UnknownThe soldiers from the 3d U.S. Infantry Regiment who guard it are held to the highest of standards—they learn and live Line 6 of The Sentinel’s Creed.

They walk the plaza 24 hours a day, 365 days a year—no matter the weather. They change guard every 30 minutes to two hours, depending on the time of day and season of the year.

Being chosen to be a Tomb guard is a rare honor—and requires unfaltering attention to detail. Every step is measured . . . every movement set to a cadence that is ingrained in their minds as well as their hearts.

As we approach this Memorial Day, we honor many who died in service to our country . . . and thank the guards charged with keeping watch over the unknowns who represent the utmost bravery of our military service members.

The Sentinel’s Creed

My dedication to this sacred duty
is total and whole-hearted.
In the responsibility bestowed on me
never will I falter.
And with dignity and perseverance
my standard will remain perfection.
Through the years of diligence and praise
and the discomfort of the elements,
I will walk my tour in humble reverence
to the best of my ability.
It is he who commands the respect I protect,
his bravery that made us so proud.
Surrounded by well meaning crowds by day,
alone in the thoughtful peace of night,
this soldier will in honored glory rest
under my eternal vigilance.

– Simon 1971

In studying the guards and their noble calling, I was reminded of the eternal vigilance of God—our eternal guardian. Psalm 121 declares, “I lift up my eyes to the hills—where does my help come from? My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth. He will not let your foot slip—he who watches over you will not slumber; indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. The LORD watches over you—the LORD is your shade at your right hand; the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night. The LORD will keep you from all harm—he will watch over your life; the LORD will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.”

That is eternal vigilance.

Questions to Share:

1. Pray together for the friends and families of those who gave the ultimate sacrifice while on military duty for our dear country—that the Lord would watch over them and comfort them.

2. Make a list of all of the places you have been stationed. Then read Psalm 139:7-10: “Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.” What do these verses say about where God has been when you were at a duty station?

Excellent or Praiseworthy is posted on Monday and Thursday nights.

Editor’s Note: This powerful writing is from Pastor Ed Choi, Lead Pastor of Rainier Valley Church near Seattle, Washington, and used by permission. We thank Pastor Choi for his service to our country, and to our Lord.

“Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.” — Romans 5:1-5

How Jesus healed me from PTSD is truly a powerful redemptive work of grace in my life, but the recovery did not happen overnight. On my second deployment to Iraq (from August 2006 to October 2007) I served with the 1-26 Infantry Battalion, which sustained more casualties than any other military unit since Vietnam. We lost 35 soldiers and over 130 were wounded. Many of the wounded ended up as amputees. I conducted 24 memorial ceremonies for our fallen soldiers, provided over 200 hours of grief counseling, and was also wounded due to an IED blast. Before returning home I began experiencing what behavioral health experts call “burn out” and “compassion fatigue.”

During my first months after returning from Iraq, I was angry, irritable, and depressed. My wife, Kathryn, and I were constantly arguing and I was having flashbacks and nightmares. I sought the help of Army psychologists and psychiatrists who helped me deal with my symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, but not the deep scars of war.

There are many times I’ve prayed to God for healing like the Apostle Paul did in 2 Corinthians 12:8 where three times he asked the Lord to heal him but did not experience an immediate healing. With time, prayer, meditating on God’s Word, being in a support group, and the love of my family, I was on the road to healing. But in December of 2011, I deployed again, this time to Afghanistan.

The deployment to Afghanistan was shorter (12 months) than my two previous deployments to Iraq (13 and 15 months) but it seemed longer and really took a toll on me. Our unit was part of the surge that operated in South Afghanistan, which had numerous insurgent strongholds resulting in many U.S. military and civilian casualties. I was attending and conducting memorial ceremonies for the fallen, took part in many Purple Heart ceremonies for those who sustained wounds, visited severely wounded soldiers in combat medical hospitals, and provided grief counseling. I started getting flashbacks and nightmares of Iraq even though I was in Afghanistan, as well as experiencing insomnia and depression.

After returning from Afghanistan, I was again given the opportunity to receive treatment from our Army psychologists and psychiatrists. What I have learned from these treatments is that continual exposure to trauma will compound PTSD. I discovered that dealing with only the symptoms and not the deep wounds of war is like putting a bandage over cancer. All the treatments and medications I was taking were like bandages. Only Jesus who died for my sins and sufferings, the Holy Spirit’s power, and the love of God were able to heal the deep scars of trauma.

Being exposed to war, the three major things I struggled with were grief, anger, and survivor’s guilt. Grief because the soldiers that I served were like my sons and daughters, so when one died in combat it affected me as if I was losing a child. I loved each one of them and I will never forget the names and faces of the 57 soldiers whom I had the honor to serve as chaplain. My grief would turn to anger; I was angry about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, angry with the faceless insurgents who were killing soldiers, and angry with God because I felt abandoned. There were many times I would pray, “My God, my God why have you forsaken me?”

I had both righteous and unrighteous anger. My righteous anger was due to how our politicians and military leaders were handling the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The righteous anger was also towards the faceless insurgents who used cruel and cowardly tactics in killing civilians and U.S. military personnel. But the pain and anguish of losing soldiers caused my unrighteous anger towards God. In my mind I understand that God is sovereign and he alone can take everything and use it for good, for Romans 8:28 says, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose,” but I doubted his goodness and his sovereignty.

However, when I see Jesus who was crucified on the cross and see how God took the most horrific and painful thing and brought salvation to sinners, I can trust the Heavenly Father. Today I have surrendered my anger to God and I know deep in my mind and heart that God is good and his mercy endures forever. I have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 5:1).

Survivor’s guilt paralyzed me and many times I questioned why I came home when many others didn’t. Why did I come back from combat with only minor physical wounds and many others returned with permanent, lifelong injuries?

Survivor’s guilt kept me from enjoying God’s grace towards me. I felt I was undeserving of surviving combat and being home with my family. After returning from my second deployment from Iraq, I received a call from a girl named Michelle Kim. Michelle was the sister of Private Jin Ho Kim, a soldier in our unit who was killed in Iraq. She asked if I would be willing to meet her and her parents. I agreed and we met for lunch and spoke for over two hours. They asked me a lot of questions about how and where their son died. They also wanted to know if he was a good soldier and if he enjoyed what he was doing in the Army. I asked them about Jin Ho and what was he like as a brother and son. Emotionally it was difficult to meet with them, but I was grateful to have the opportunity to do so.

After saying our goodbyes with tears and smiles, I felt a heavy burden of guilt. Kathryn was with me and when I was driving I had to pull over because of the overwhelming feeling of survivor’s guilt. I cried in the car uncontrollably with tears of sorrow and pain, asking myself, “Why me?” I kept saying, “Why did I come home?” I cried out loud, “I should have died in Iraq!” Kathryn held me gently and kept saying to me, “It’s okay.” While going through Redemption Group last year I came to accept that the only reason I survived in combat was because the grace of our Lord overflowed for me . . . and the love that is in Christ Jesus (I Timothy 1:14—“The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus”). I’m not any better or more special than any soldier who died in combat. Because of God’s grace, which is God’s undeserved favor towards us, he kept me safe through three deployments and alive today in order to serve him.

With his love and grace, God started to heal me from PTSD through the power of the Holy Spirit. He did not give me the answers to all my questions, but revealed to me that his grace is sufficient. God started to take my grief and turn it to joy. In Psalm 30:5 it says, “Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning.” James 1:2 says, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.” I’m not talking about happiness, but joy through pain in suffering. Pastor Mark preached on this in the second sermon in the James series when he said, “Happiness is because of your circumstances, joy is in spite of your circumstances . . . it’s crazy joy.” There will always be pain in my heart for the soldiers I’ve lost in combat, but today joy in Christ will be my strength, for the Scripture says, “The joy of the Lord is your strength” (Nehemiah 8:10)!

Through the three deployments (40 months total) to combat and being diagnosed with PTSD, God has revealed to me that his grace is sufficient. In 2 Corinthians 12:9, God said to Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” And like Paul I can say, “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” Christ is my hope and salvation, he is my joy and peace, he is my treasure and redemption!

I’ll conclude by quoting 2 Corinthians 4:5-11:

“For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.”

To God be the glory, forever!

Questions to Share:

1. How did God sustain Chaplain Choi during his three deployments? How has God sustained you during your deployments?

2. Pray for Pastor Choi as God uses his wartime chaplaincy experience to minister now to those in his church. Pray also for yourselves, as a couple, for God to use your deployment experience to minister to others.

Kandahar Spring

Written by Heather. Filed Under Spiritual Training

Editor’s Note: Heather McColl Morgan, a favorite writer for Excellent or Praiseworthy, wrote this posting when she was deployed. We are grateful that she took some time to reflect and share these thoughts with us before returning home.

Excellent or Praiseworthy is posted on Monday and Thursday nights.

“ . . . because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by Him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’ The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in His sufferings in order that we may also share in His glory.” — Romans 8: 14-18

It is getting warm here in the desert and things are very busy.

Last month I heard a few people pose different versions of a question asked by many of us: “Why are we here?” Thoughts on U.S. foreign policy and the meaning of life aside, this question can be expected whenever there is a drastic shift in priorities and mission set, as people go to war with one idea of why they’re going and what they’ll be doing— which inevitably takes new, dramatic twists and turns, especially this late in the war. This question also struck me as having a basic answer for believers in Christ’s death, resurrection, and redemption. If Christ—with God the Father and the Holy Spirit—is indeed a co-creator, co-sustainer, and co-restorer of this broken world . . . and if we are, as St. Paul says, “heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ,” then the following things can be said of us, no matter where we find ourselves and no matter what we may be doing:

WE CREATE: In dark, empty places we speak and make something new and good into being.

WE SUSTAIN: We destroy or remove what is dead or diseased, and help what is alive to grow and function.

WE RESTORE: Where there is willingness and purpose, we help put broken people, things, and situations back together.

This has been especially encouraging to my husband and I during periods of transition and waiting in the military, where we can’t always use our best gifts daily, and are made constantly aware of our weaknesses. While we continue to discern and pursue our vocation as that activity where “our great joy meets the world’s great need,” we realized early on that our military service days were not meant to be our life’s work but a necessary part of our vocational journey.

While we wait, the calling of a Christ-follower is this: within our duties and obligations, we find space to create, to sustain, and to restore because we bear the image of God. This will look different for each of us, and will undoubtedly cause friction (sometimes even with other believers) as we try to discern the void, the destructive, the broken, from what is worth preserving and saving.

I will say that it also makes the day more adventurous to be on the lookout for examples of people doing this!  As quickly the spring in Kandahar has given way to summer, we watch each other transform and mature with our various challenges. The hope is that each day we are more able to recognize brokenness in our world, and more equipped and ready to participate in the creative, restorative ways that God makes all things new, starting with us.

Questions to Share:

1. What brokenness do you see in the world around you?  How can we encourage each other by naming the brokenness we see around us and in ourselves?

2. How can we work alongside others using our different experiences and gifts to co-create, co-sustain and co-restore the world with God?


Jesus at Your Wedding

Written by Mike. Filed Under Marriage & Family

Excellent or Praiseworthy is posted on Monday and Thursday nights.

“Let us rejoice and be glad and give Him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and His bride has made herself ready.” — Revelation 19:7

It was five years ago that my husband and I closely watched two weddings—one on TV and the other through photos on Facebook. One, a royal wedding, costing millions of dollars and the other probably less than $200. Both couples deeply in love and truly committed to each other; both weddings in churches; both military couples with obligations to duty; both brides beautiful and both grooms handsome; both families excited and happy for the couples.

With the images of the two Christian ceremonies in mind, I was impressed by what Bob and Cheryl Moeller wrote in their “Marriage Minutes” shortly thereafter.  Their article was entitled “Invite Jesus to Your Wedding—Goals for Your Wedding Day.” If you are planning a wedding, or helping to plan one, perhaps these ideas might help to make it a sacred event with God’s presence in mind:

“1. We will make our wedding a worship experience by making Jesus the very first person we invite.

2. We will resolve to make it a worship service, rather than a production.

3. We will set our goal to be married, not just to get married.

4. We will praise the Creator, rather than calling attention to us.

5. We will set a budget to honor God rather to impress people.

6. We will publicly honor our parents and grandparents.

7. We will remember it is Christ, not the pastor who really marries us.

8. We will call attention on our wedding day to our true future hope – the second coming of Christ (the wedding supper of the Lamb).”

Item #3 is a goal that will take you past your wedding day and into each day of your lives together.  Our prayer is that you seek to honor God in your marriage . . . and not just at your wedding.

Work Cited: from “Marriage Minutes” by Bob and Cheryl Moeller, May 2, 2011, on www.forkeepsministries.com

Questions to Share:

Also from the Moeller’s “Marriage Minutes”:

1. “Will people remember Jesus more than the two of us when the day is over?

2. Is the presence of Christ truly welcome in all our festivities including the reception?

3. Will the people who attend catch a glimpse of heaven?”

There’s More to Success

Written by Chaps. Filed Under Spiritual Training

Excellent or Praiseworthy is posted on Monday and Thursday nights.

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Philippians 2:3,4

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music, or Shakespeare wrote poetry.” Whatever our role, our position, our organization—we should strive to be the best.

Agreed. But what if there was more . . . ?

Don’t all people essentially want the same things? And, in part, don’t we all on some level deeply desire to be successful? I would say, “Yes!”

When people think of “success,” we frequently assume professional development or promotion, superior financial security, nicer “stuff,” good reputation among peers and colleagues, and the quality of relationships we enjoy. I think we would agree this is a fair representation of elements of success. So you say, “Okay, Chaps, we got it. So where are you going with this?”

Hmmm . . . .what if the previous portrayal of success was an incomplete model? What if there was a key ingredient missing from our construct of success? What if the missing piece to our assumed construct was so evident that when I tell you, you will at once respond, “Of course!”

You and I are obsessed with love for numero uno, i.e., “me, myself and I.” Human beings are impulsively self-engrossed. Success is conventionally viewed as something “I” achieve and therefore “I” experience.

What if true success was only achieved in community, as we help others reach and become successful themselves? What if success was inherently attached to the process of “less of you and more of others?”

I believe we were fashioned with the desire for significance. But to be wholly human and satisfied in life, God hard-wired people to serve others with the same pre-conditioned vigor. Here are some thoughts to consider:

I find great hope and assistance in the Scriptures because they consistently run contrary to what comes naturally to “me!” The message of Scripture time and again challenges personal assumptions I hold dearly about life. Scripture keeps me honest—so does my wife—by reminding me: “Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others” (I Corinthians 10:24).

How different would the quality of our lives during deployment be if we aligned ourselves with this one principle and actually sought to think of others first—their needs, their struggles, their interests, their pursuits for significance?

Questions to Share

1. How did you get to where you are today? Who was instrumental in helping you achieve a degree of success in your life? Have you thanked them recently?

2. How are you naturally inclined to take care of yourself at the neglect of others?

3. What specific steps can you take to begin to include “othering” at a deeper level in your life? Who do you need to initiate a relationship with and help them achieve success?

“Super-Glue” for the Home

Written by Linda. Filed Under Marriage & Family

Excellent or Praiseworthy is posted on Monday and Thursday nights.

He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. — Colossians 1:17

The story goes something like this: A military family has just arrived at their new duty station. They’ve settled into temporary quarters and have begun to look at housing options. The mother takes one of the little children with her to the commissary where the commander’s wife spots her and decides to check on how the family is doing. In the course of the conversation, she asks, “Have you found a home yet?” The child answers, “Oh, we have a home—we just haven’t found a house to put it in!”

There’s a lot of truth in that statement! The military family, at its best, is indeed a unit. And whether they are at an assignment for quite a length of time or are moving from place to place as duty demands—they cling to each other. They’ve learned to exercise flexibility and resilience, made possible by that wonderful WD-40 known as “sense of humor” combined with a hopeful attitude.  They extend grace to each other, knowing that the challenges of war-time duty can bring us all to the point of being “frazzled.” And they encourage each other to get through any and all situations.

What else can we say about the military family “unit”? This is the perfect time to answer this question, because last week on May 6th was Military Spouse Appreciation Day–always the Friday before Mother’s Day.

Each family is unique, but there are seven common elements which we can examine:

1. The family works as a “location” unit: When do we move? Where do we move? Do we move back to family-of-origin during deployments, or do we stay at the base/post for support? Do we buy or rent? Which school district do we want to live in? Do we live on base or in the local community? Do we try to stay together during an “unaccompanied tour,” even if it means that we are non-command sponsored, or do we stay state-side during the remote tour? The military family must consider these options, and which is best for their individual circumstances.

2. The family works as a “vocation” unit: Is this assignment necessary for a career opportunity, or would it be best to stay put? Does the at-home spouse work outside of the home, or stay-at-home? Do we need extra training, which might cost more money, to get expertise in a new area in order to provide for the family long-term? Do we need to consider home-schooling of our children because of location constraints or travel opportunities?

3. The family works as a “logistics” unit: How much furniture do we put in storage? Which car do we ship overseas? What cell phone plan gives us the best ability to communicate? Do we want to buy new appliances or used ones? How much money should we budget for the deployed spouse to have to spend? Are wills, powers-of-attorney, and insurance papers all up-to-date—with computer passwords shared? Do we have a list of emergency phone numbers available? Do we have a list of “go-to” people for home and auto repairs?

4. The family works as a “consistency” unit: Who is available to keep and explain medical records to each “new” doctor or medical facility at each move, or at each visit? Who knows special educational needs for each child, which must be followed at each new location? Who in the family is responsible for what chore? How do we communicate best with each other—by email, phone, letter? Are we consistent in letting each other know what is happening, offering help, meeting needs. . . . so that trust is built into our family? Who handles discipline of the children during deployments–and how?

5. The family works as an “attitude” unit: Is each new challenge viewed as a crisis, or an opportunity to see God at work? Does the family walk a walk of faith. . . or of fear? Is the cup half-empty, half-full, or overflowing? Does cynicism reign, or confidence? Are our expectations of each other and each new situation in line with reality? Do we build each other up, or tear each other down? Do we have the attitude that each one of us is precious in the sight of God, or a burden? Is patience demonstrated? Is perspective put into each situation—that certain trials and troubles are for a season? Is the attitude of gratitude “built into” each day?

6. The family works as a “traditions” unit: Have we built into our family certain holiday traditions that provide security when everything else might be different? When half of the boxes are unpacked after a move, but the first batch of cookies comes out of the oven—does that signal that we are “home”? Is there a favorite movie, a favorite game, a favorite vacation spot. . . that holds memories which can be re-visited and provide enjoyment? Does the family traditionally look into the history of the new area into which we move? Are there patriotic traditions which continue in our family? Are successes or accomplishments celebrated a certain way—no matter what? Do we have devotional time once a day, or prayer time together, that happens everywhere we live?

7. The family works as a “loving” unit: Are mistakes met with blame or forgiveness? Is growth in knowledge and wisdom the desire for each family member? Do we listen to each others’ frustrations, and dreams? Are we quick to criticize, or quick to cheer-lead? Does compassion and understanding rule the day, or bitterness and resentment? Is selfishness what we demonstrate, or can we serve each other daily, in humility? What church do we “plug into” in order to demonstrate spiritual gifts, worship, listen to sound-teaching of the Bible, and serve our Lord? Is gratitude expressed daily—for every breath and for every blessing? Is appreciation for each family member spoken and/or written? Are we kind to each other?

In so many instances it is the military spouse that holds these units together. The military spouse is the “super-glue,” the “home front,” the one who balances work and family demands, the “keeper of the stuff and the schedule,” the one who provides that all-important consistency, presents a positive attitude, keeps family traditions alive, and loves loves loves. If there were an official song for a military spouse, it would be “You are the Wind Beneath My Wings.” Most often, the military spouse is the Mom, but sometimes the Dad. . . . while other times both Mom and Dad are active-duty and must gently juggle (sometimes not so gently) all plates which are spinning a hundred miles an hour! Communication and cooperation must be at the forefront in order to keep the whole thing from falling apart!

But Who holds the military spouse together? And Who ultimately holds every situation, every decision, every circumstance, every family together–the real “super-glue”? For that we turn to Colossians 1:15-20 for this beautiful description of Jesus Christ, which includes: “He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.” (vs. 17) From the tiniest particle within the atom, to the grand expanse of the universe, Scripture tells us that Christ is supreme. And further in Colossians we find my favorite marriage and family verse: “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.  Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another.  Forgive as the Lord forgave you.  And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” (Colossians 3:12-14)

Is Jesus Christ supreme in your home? Do you, as a family, go to Him in prayer and Scripture study for wisdom regarding assignments, career decisions, management of possessions, health care, attitudes, traditions, and how best to demonstrate love to each individual in the family?  Is your relationship with Jesus Christ the foundation for your relationships with others?

Take the time today, to voice your appreciation for your spouse and all they do to serve you, your family, your community, your country, and your Lord! And thank the Lord for the precious gift of your spouse!

Questions to Share:

1. In what ways does your family operate well as a unit?

2. In what ways does your family not operate so well as a unit?

3. Pray for the Lord to hold your family together during this deployment.

Mother’s Day Perspective

Written by Linda. Filed Under Marriage & Family

Editor’s Note:  This devotion was originally posted on May 6, 2010.  Since then, our son has completed two combat tours and returned.  He will soon be deploying again.

Excellent or Praiseworthy is posted on Monday and Thursday nights.

Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the LORD’S great love we are not consumed, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness. — Lamentations 3:21-23

When I face some new challenge in my life—even potentially scary—one thing I seek to do is to gain perspective. The ground under me might be shaking, but I’m trying to hang onto something solid . . . . something that will help me to make sense of it, help me to remember that I’m not alone, help me to realize that it’s not forever. You know—perspective.

This Mother’s Day I join the ranks of millions of mothers who have gone before me, saying good-by to their sons and daughters and sending them off to war. Today my son is deploying to Afghanistan.

In the past I have seen my brother off to the jungles of southeast Asia—and my husband off to the airfields of the same. Later, good-byes became common during our military career (love those Hellos!) . . . . but I had always heard that feelings are different when it is your child leaving. I think that’s true. I need perspective.

So here are some of the things that I remember when I try to steady myself with some solid perspective:

1. Our God is sovereign and He is good. The Bible teaches that it is our triune God who rules and whose power is always and ultimately good. Because I love Him, and submit to His plan, I trust Him to love and care for my son in foreign lands. I believe God answers prayer, and we will continue to pray unceasingly throughout this deployment. When I remember this, it helps.

2. The many times my husband and I were geographically separated—during wartime and peace-time, God faithfully provided comfort and strength for us. I can look back at all of the “crises” we endured through those years and can see the hand of God as He guided us through every situation. When I remember this, it helps.

3. I grew emotionally and spiritually the most during the tough times in our marriage—even during deployment. It was during just such a lonely time that I became a Christian! I can’t make this deployment “easy” for our son and his family, but I do know that they will grow in faith as they will lean on God for courage, strength, and endurance. When I remember this, it helps.

4. Our national cause is just. Fighting the global war on terror is necessary, and all of you who are battling the terrorist enemy are providing the hope of security in a very insecure world. Nations are being built . . . . freedom established where there was none. Future generations have you to thank for maintaining order in these tumultuous times. When I remember this, it helps.

5. Our military units are well-trained and well-equipped. My son and his unit have been training for this for years. They are ready. He is ready. And his unit has been careful to prepare the families for the deployment separation—which is something I really appreciate. The leadership has made sure that paperwork, communication, supplies and plans are in place and in order. When I remember this, it helps.

6. Our son has tremendous support. Their church, base, unit, neighborhood, friends and relatives . . . . are all standing by to help he and his precious family in every possible way. I have already mailed off his first batch of homemade chocolate chip cookies, and no doubt there will be many more care packages sent by me and others. When I remember this, it helps.

7. Lastly, it helps when I remember that other mothers have been through this in the past . . . . and their words encourage me. I particularly enjoy reading the letters written during former wars. A favorite collection of 365 wartime letters is found in Battlefields & Blessings: Stories of Faith and Courage from The Civil War.

Here are some of the letters or diary entries written by mothers (North and South) in the Civil War:

“ . . . . and I fervently implore my God and my Redeemer to protect and save you in the day of battle, and to encourage your heart and hearts of our commander and all of our noble company, and to strengthen your arms for the conflict . . .” p. 158

“ . . . . it is a consolation to believe that my sons are in the hands of a merciful God. I hope and pray that they may be permitted to return home, if consistent with the Lord’s will, I pray to God every day in their behalf, it is a trial to me, but I pray that our Country may enjoy peace and be independent.” p. 167

“I think too much of my sorrows and too little of my blessings, truly God has been very kind to me, and though he has sent trials to me, yet how do I know but that if it had not been for them I should never have tested the sweetness of God’s mercy.” p. 275

And I also love this diary entry recorded on Sunday, April 3, 1862, by a private in the 100th Pennsylvania Volunteers. This young man’s mother raised a fine son:

“Slept very little last night, although it continued to rain. Woke about daylight, took up my Bible and read awhile before I got up. I make it a rule to read a portion of scripture every day, although I cannot have any set time; have to be guided by circumstances in a great measure, but always try if possible to read a chapter just before going to sleep. It would be very hard indeed to endure the separation from those that are dear were it not for the consciousness of being in the line of duty, and that God Rules; and that he doeth all things well. Oh how comforting the thought that we have such a God to go to . . . .” p. 101

Mother’s Day is a special time to remember—our own mothers, our dear children, our good friends, our great nation, and our faithful God. We have much for which to be grateful. When I remember this, it helps—and I have perspective and hope.

He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.  I will say of the LORD, “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.”  — Psalm 91:1,2

Work cited:

Tuley, Terry, Battlefields & Blessings: Stories of Faith and Courage from The Civil War (Chattanooga: Living Ink Books, 2006)

Questions to Share:

1. What encourages you during deployment?

2. With your experience, how can you encourage others who are facing deployment?

No Regrets!

Written by Chaps. Filed Under Spiritual Training

Excellent or Praiseworthy is posted on Monday and Thursday nights.

God is our refuge and strength, an ever present help in trouble. — Psalm 46:1

I sought the LORD, and He answered me; He delivered me from all my fears. — Psalm 34:4

We have much in common on board the ship. It wasn’t that long ago we left our friends, boyfriends/girlfriends, spouses, children, and the dog—thousands of miles behind. So, what now, Chaplain? I’m so glad you asked . . . .

As a Chaplain, one prevailing question I hear and frequently consider is this: “Where is God during deployment?” “Does God’s presence exist on a warship or in the sand of Afghanistan?”

The Scriptures teach God is omnipresent, meaning He is everywhere. In addition we recognize God inhabits His believing followers via His Holy Spirit. But for many of us the presence of God just doesn’t voyage with us—He stays back home or port-side with our families. Let me explain. . . .

As I reflect about God’s presence on a war ship, I consider what “types” of people likely constitute a ship—specifically what is the composition of individual spiritual journeys and experiences. I came up with four distinct categories which might help us consider why we often leave God behind and in port. Take a moment with me to see if you can locate yourself in any of the suggested caricatures. I found parts of me and my life experiences all over the place!

Category #1—“No Time for This!”—This group has absolutely no capacity for the spiritual realm—zero, nada, none!  Now, don’t get me wrong, these are good people and great Sailors. . . .but even receiving an article from Chaps makes them uncomfortable. They silently wonder, “Why doesn’t he just go away. . . .” They may even question why a Chaplain would embark a war ship—but that’s a great question for another day. Most likely, they’ve already deleted my article with one quick stroke of a key and moved on.

Category #2—“The Real World”—This group possesses a cerebral reliance upon God which they can philosophically verbalize with great skill and expertise. They have come to an “understanding” with God—something like “You don’t mess with me and I won’t mess with you.” This position closely resembles an ol’-fashioned Texas stand-off.

Category #2 agrees the spiritual realm is necessary. But, when pressed, they find it hard making the connection between the divine and daily, real-world practical stuff of life. From their vantage point, their personal experience reinforces the assumption that God feels distant, unrelated to their life and impotent over life’s complexities.

Category #2 lives in the fast-lane of vain control—doing what “I” need to do to get “it” done. “You know how it is, Chaps, the only person I can rely on and trust is me!” They conclude, “If this were a perfect world, God would be a nice idea; but, this is a harsh, bitter world we live in! So let’s get on with reality . . . I don’t have time for a bunch of feel-good, idealistic religious emotionalism!”

Category #3—“Multiple Personalities”—This group is genuinely dedicated to a system of faith that is real to them, but incompatible to their assortment of “personalities.” When home, they frequently attend church services with their family, volunteer, and even give thanks before meals. From all peripheral appearances they are collected and well-meaning religious folk.

To make matters more complex, they privately commit before leaving home that “this deployment will be different.” However, for a variety of plausible reasons, they routinely forget and leave their value system behind on the Pier. As the ship pushes off, their sincere devotion quickly fades and slips into the depths of non-existence, only to reappear on the voyage home.

Category #3 has become skilled at deception and living comfortably within their own inconsistencies. The dichotomy of their two approaches is disturbing because they are intuitively aware the two totally distinct personalities conflict. They justify what has now emerged as a “lifestyle” suggesting, “I’m not this way at home with my family. . . .so, it’s okay.” But deep down they doubt the validity of their own argument.

Category #3 swiftly asserts they’re not proud of who they are or what they’ve become. “But Chaps, this is the military! It is what it is . . . .” The implication is deafening: They rationalize that spiritual people cannot and will not be effective in this military culture. In their mind the split personalities are now completely justified.

In Category #3’s consciousness, they know their “arrangement” is not compelling. And to make matters worse, they battle internally for something new because deep down they’re convinced of only one truth: They’re not satisfied! Category #3 silently longs for something richer, more fulfilling, and rewarding.

Category #3 is exhausted by the emotional gymnastics and finds it difficult to develop a cogent, clear program for moving forward. They are stuck in a bad cycle, and they know it. Rather than torment themselves with thoughts of yet another failed attempt at change, they resign themselves to suppress the sentiment for change deep down into their being and quickly move on. They convince themselves to be content living as one trapped between two worlds. God forbid anybody would ever find out what they really think. . . .

Category #4—“Isolated & Alone”—This group lives with a single reality each day—being committed to their faith makes them a secluded minority who is often professionally and socially marginalized. They diligently seek opportunities to practice and apply their faith regardless of the level of acceptance in their particular environment. They read their devotions on a routine basis, attend services, volunteer, and look to apply their faith in meaningful ways.

“Chaps, what’s the problem with this group? Isn’t this what you want. . . Man, you’re not happy with anybody!” Well, let me explain. . .

This group lives in the awkward tension of the inner-personal. They silently struggle with the dominating and crippling thought: “I’m all alone here.” As they examine their peers, they are conflicted by one prevailing thought: “I’m an oddity; quickly fading, and living on the verge of extinction.” To make matters worse, they secretly speculate if living their faith consistently is really worth it. They’re frequently lonely, disenchanted, and socially isolated from others. They want to make a positive spiritual contribution but don’t see a lane for that to occur.

Conclusion—Well, that concludes my brief synopsis. Now you might be thinking: “Wow, this article is very judgmental and assumes a lot about people.” But I’m only familiar with these categories of people because I’ve been all of them at one time or another! Does that surprise you?

Ultimately these categories describe my own journey and experience with God. I’ve been them all! How about you? Were you able to locate yourself?

I was once completely out of sorts with God and saw no real practical role for Him in my life. Honestly, most Christians were just a nuisance to me. I would privately reflect: “I know God’s real, but so what? Who cares? He has made no visible or tangible difference in my life or the lives of others. So why waste my time?”

I could see no outlet for me to express my faith that made sense to me. Then, as life’s circumstances began to churn around me and situations became more challenging, I grew closer to God—more accepting for the ways I could meet Him in church, prayer, and even in the fellowship of people with true faith. Knowing He loved me and wanted the best for me I made room for my gracious God who became central in my thinking and experience . . . .even while I was bombarded by life’s pressures and demands. I was not alone. . . .and my faith was deepening in joy. Hope and peace became my companions as my personal relationship with Jesus Christ became the anchor for my soul—and the assurance of eternal life with Him became my perspective.

Looking back with more than twenty years of hindsight on my faith journey, I can say (without reservation) it has been the best journey of my life. I have absolutely NO REGRETS! How about you?

Questions to Share:

1. What is this deployment was as much about your spiritual life as it was the military?

2. What if strengthening your personal spiritual life would actually improve your professional work and bring greater satisfaction to your life? Why would you resist that . . . ?

3. What is God was attempting to use situations or people around you to get your attention . . .? Do you see any evidences of God working in or around your life? If you look closely, I would suspect you would quickly find Him.

4. What one character flaw hinders your life most today? What will you institute that will help you to improve? What’s your motivation for changing or working on “you”?

Through It All

Written by Linda. Filed Under Spiritual Training

Excellent or Praiseworthy is posted on Monday and Thursday nights.

“Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. For I am the LORD, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.” — Isaiah 43:1b-3a

God, speaking through the prophet Isaiah, is reassuring the Jewish people that He alone is their God and that they should not fear pagan invaders—that He is with them. Just two chapters prior to this verse you will find the oft-quoted Isaiah 41:10: “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” In chapter 43, Isaiah’s writing states that God is not only with them, but will see them through.

There are several definitions of the word “through”—“in one side and out the opposite” and “from the beginning to the end of”, depending on the context. How do we get through deployment? How do we get through the waters of discouragement? through the rivers of loneliness? through the fire of fear? The same God who is in me (the Holy Spirit) is the one who will get me through. And I will get through because of faith.

It is a beautiful thing to see a couple get through something that challenges them in every area of their lives (like a deployment)—and because of faith they do not give up. When the deployment is over, they can look back over the months of discouragement/loneliness/fear and say with confidence, “My God took me through this.” And what if things did not go easily—struggles with children/finances/ temptations/health? I have seen God give grace, forgiveness, redemption, comfort, patience, mercy, discernment, strength, wisdom, perspective. . . . LOVE. Faith to persevere and endure is ours. . . in abundance, but only because of the power of the Holy Spirit.

Sometimes it is only a step at a time, a day at a time (or an hour at a time). . . .but God is there to walk beside us or to carry us. Sometimes we endure because someone gives us a word of encouragement—at just the right time. Sometimes we read a truth from the Word that speaks to us—at just the right time. Sometimes we see beauty in nature, music, the smile of a child. . .and our hearts are lifted. Sometimes a friend or battle buddy comes along to help us—at just the right time. Sometimes we are given an opportunity to help someone else going through the same trials—and we are strengthened in the process. Sometimes we are reminded of His faithfulness in the past, and that encourages us in the present to give us hope for the future. All of these provisions are gifts from the Lord and demonstrate His love for us.

Paul, in his letter to the Romans, writes of this provision: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword (or deployments)?. . . . . No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation (including deployment and reintegration challenges), will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” — Romans 8:35, 37-39.

When I think about the word “through”, and how (because of God’s power) we can get through difficult times, I am reminded of the song Through it All. In 1975 the songwriter, Andrae Crouch, was recorded singing it at a Billy Graham Crusade. Here is the link in YouTube. Listen carefully and you will hear that the last verse of the song is:

“I thank God for the mountains,
And I thank Him for the valleys,
I thank Him for the storms He brought me through;
For if I’d never had a problem,
I wouldn’t know that He could solve them,
I’d never know what faith in God could do.
Through it all, Through it all,
I’ve learned to trust in Jesus,
I’ve learned to trust in God. Through it all, Through it all,
I’ve learned to depend upon His Word.”

From start to finish, God can get us through. In our society of “quick fixes” and “instant gratification”, our military members are showing the world what perseverance developed during the testing of faith looks like. With God’s help, you are the example of how to go through hard times and come out victors. Your faith in your families, your battle buddies, your friends, your leadership, your training, your mission, and your God are an inspiration to all of us, and give us all hope.

There is another definition of “through”, and it is “because of,” found quoted above in Romans 8:37. So let me close with one of the most well-known of Scriptures that uses this other definition of “through.” “I can do everything through Him who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:13) To God be the glory!

Questions to Share:

1. What inspired Andrae Crouch to write Through it All? (answer in the video link)

2. Can you name one thing in the past that God has gotten you through as a couple, and how He did that?

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