The speech known as “The Gettysburg Address” was the dedication ceremony message for the Soldiers’ National Cemetery, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, given by President Abraham Lincoln on November 19, 1863—154 years ago today . . . But have you ever wondered how this particular visit to the battlefield affected President Lincoln? Coming just 4 ½ months after the Union army’s decisive defeat of the Confederate forces at the Battle of Gettysburg, Lincoln was so moved by the view of acres of soldiers’ graves that he gave his heart and life to Jesus Christ right there.
“From Carleene—‘Another Saturday night alone at Fort Bragg, NC, exhausted from another day alone with toddlers, alone without a husband to talk to, the kids without their daddy . . .I had been ruminating for months about giving up. I could not stand the stony silences on the one hand, and the sharp retorts, the anger, the constant fighting when he was home. Is this what marriage was supposed to be?’
I sat in our Bible study and watched another woman share a prayer request. She was having a hard time dealing with the fact that her parents and sister’s family had moved across the country. After years of living in the same small town of Homer, Alaska, this woman missed them terribly and was growing bitter about it. As I listened to her share with broken voice and many tears, I’m ashamed to admit I had no compassion for her whatsoever. The first thing that jumped into my mind was, “You call that bad? Try being a military wife! We hardly ever get to live near our extended families. We don’t even live with our own husbands half the time!”
I did some vehicle recovery training early in my military career. I don’t remember much of it other than this one exercise where the instructors drove an M113 Armored Personnel Carrier into a swamp and told us to drag it out using some ropes, pulleys, ground anchors and get this---a hand winch! An M113 weighs around 10 tons and this one was down a bank and in the mud. The winch was rated for 2 tons! We followed the instructor’s directions and set up a series of ropes running through pulleys and anchored to solid ground at the other end. The pulley was then attached to the end of another rope and so on. The theory was that each pulley/rope/ground anchor we set up doubled the weight we could pull because the ground anchors would take half the weight.
Last week I received prayers by email from two friends whose sons are in the desert—one in Afghanistan and one in Iraq. Knowing that “Excellent or Praiseworthy” seeks to share spiritual encouragement during the war on terror, these special moms wanted to contribute what they are praying for their sons and their comrades-in-arms. The first email I received said this: “As the mom of a deployed soldier, I’m always looking for ways to pray for my son, something in addition to--‘Lord, keep him safe.’
We gather with military couples every Saturday night for dinner and Bible study. And at the end of our meeting time we take prayer requests—and then pray. But on this particular Saturday night, a certain prayer request brought some deep discussion. One of our young military men voiced discouragement over the atmosphere in his workplace on board ship. There was crudeness—to put it mildly. His desire was to be “light in a dark place”. But, in this current culture, what does that really mean for a Christian serving in today’s military?
During childhood many of us were taught the Lord’s Prayer. We can recite it “from memory” and it doesn’t mean a thing, if we’re not careful. Whether we call it the “Lord’s Prayer” or the “Model Prayer” it reads like this in Matthew 6:9-13: “. . . Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts (some say ‘trespasses’), as we forgive our debtors (or ‘those who trespass against us’). And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil: For Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.” Whether praying this prayer before going out on patrol in the desert, before going to bed at night, or as part of worship or a discipline of daily time with God, it’s a good reminder to examine this prayer for our “heart attitude” so that it doesn’t become just part of a “check-list of to-dos.”
Picture this—both sides in a battle are lobbing grenades at one another. The grenades blow up causing much destruction on each side. Now imagine that the two sides fighting are really a husband and a wife. The “grenades” are words and actions—and somehow both partners seem surprised when they “blow up”! Lots of hurt. . .lots of anger. . .and it just gets worse and worse. The fighting can continue right into the divorce court. If you’ve ever seen this happening in a couple, or experienced it yourself, you know that it’s just crazy!
I would be surprised if you have gotten through this deployment without any tears. Tears when your spouse left; tears during the long months of separation; tears at special occasions when your loved one’s presence is especially missed . . . tears matter. Tears matter to God.
I think I’m like a lot of military professionals in that I pride myself in being able to make a good plan. After all, I’ve had over 20 years of training and practice in making plan after plan and having them tested, refined, tested again, criticized, tested again, refined and the final test of all, executed. We in the military should be good at making plans, and not just one plan either. We have Plan A, Plan B and Plan C, each of which have branches (contingency plans) and sequels (follow on plans) – all designed to ensure that when we set out to achieve our mission, our execution is robust and effective. The success of our plans in achieving a mission is where the rubber hits the road in the military. It can accelerate or decelerate our careers. It can lead to honor or to shame. Plans are pretty important, and I haven’t restricted my planning only to what I do in the military.