Friday, September 30, 2005

Size Matters

Today is an unusual day.  I try to be a person who unabashedly lets others into my world, allowing them to know the real me.  However, as most people of my gender, the level to which I reveal myself is usually somewhat guarded.  But, today is an unusual day.  Today I am going to lift my robe and reveal something about myself that may change the way people think of me but I can’t avoid it.  It must be done!  But first a little background.

People need people.  We are relational beings.  One of the main ways that need pans out among humanity is through the institution of marriage.  People get married all the time for a variety of reasons, all of which boil down to a desire for relationship.  I am no exception.  I need people.  And once upon a time, I met a person.  She was 12 years old at the time and over the course of the next several years we became friends.  Nearly a decade after meeting, she had morphed from a lanky, pimply, straight haired, knocked kneed little girl, to a downright hottie.  So, in my need for “relationship”, I up and married her.

The Global war on Terror has presented many challenges to our world, our nation and the men and women who currently find themselves away from friends, family, and home.  One of the larger challenges faced by today’s American soldier is the fact that many, like myself, are married.  As such, much work must be done to maintain the quality of those marriages in the face of extended separations over many important days.  Holidays, birthdays, graduations, and promotions are days regularly missed by our uniformed service members.   And in the realm of marriage, wedding anniversaries in recent days are being spent continents apart from one another.  Online chat has of necessity replaced pillow talk among soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines deployed in support of the war.  But these great men and women are resourceful, to say the least.  And the advent of the Internet has helped bridge the distance between separated husbands and wives on this, one of the most important days of the year.

Today marks the 17th anniversary of my marriage to my wonderful wife.  She is a simple woman who doesn’t require much and yet makes the most of everything she has.  She enjoys the decidedly feminine things in life and at the same time mows a mean lawn.  My brothers call her “a pioneer woman” because of her ability to take covered wagon surroundings and turn them into a livable and enjoyable environment for her family.  And we, like many others have spent our fair share of anniversaries apart from one another.  But I have discovered a way to ease the pain of separation while at the same time, causing me much emotional grief and making this such an unusual day.  So it is that with that background information in mind, I lift the veil and expose myself.

This year, in my efforts to do something nice for my wife, I went to the source of gifts for nearly all deployed service members…the internet.  Man, you can get anything and have it sent right to your house (in a beautifully gift wrapped package) as if you had gone to the local mall.  Well, my bride loves comfortable, workable pajamas.  She loves flannel and cotton and silk.  She loves long sleeves and long pants with pretty drawstrings.  You know, the kind of things that give guys hives.  But she likes em…a lot.  So this year, I struck gold.  I went to a well from which the waters of wedded bliss can be drawn with impunity.   I went to  This was the move of all moves.  They had exactly what I thought she would like.  Flannel and flowers, drawstrings and daisies.  I have ordered from them before and will again.  If you like raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens, I’d encourage you to visit this wonderful company.  However, DO NOT try to surprise her.  This is the exposure I alluded to earlier as this is precisely what I tried to do.  I figured, “Hey, I’m millions of miles away.  I’ll find something I think she’ll like, take a guess at her size, and place my order.”  To the casual observer this may seem like a good plan.  However, if said casual observer is a guy, he is in trouble.  You see guys, women don’t wear small medium or large.  They maintain their power in the universe by wearing sizes designed to confound the average human male.  Sizes like 22.8GYT or Purple19S or XPR5Dog.  Didn’t the Packers use those last year?  So, I picked out a lovely pair of overly comfortable pajamas with a lovely bamboo pattern and clicked on the pull down tab to select her size.  Given that I didn’t have my Packers playbook with me, I had to guess.  As the law of averages dictated I guessed wrong.  I have no idea what the size was called but I knew I was excited for her to receive my very thoughtful gesture of love on this our 17th Anniversary.  When she received her beautifully gift wrapped package I called her from across the cosmos and begged her to open it even though it was several days before our day of glory.  I could hear the box opening and the paper tearing and the excitement in the air.  Then I heard the laughter.  She thanked me as best she could for her lovely new pajamas while chuckling under her breath.   Then the horror.  Her lovely new pajamas were of a particular size so that our whole family could wear simultaneously.  

So today is an unusual day because I have the honor of celebrating my 17th wedding anniversary and because my wife is the proud owner of a brand new, bamboo patterned, silk tent.

Friday, September 16, 2005

The Fight

I think few would argue with me when I say that the job of a chaplain is not necessarily a physical job. Oh, sure we have our occasional display of superhumanity such as when my heart continues beating even after running a few miles trying to keep up with the much younger and obviously better fit soldiers that surround me. But overall, I think, being a chaplain is not unlike being an armchair when it comes to actual motion in the performance of the job. But that’s not to say it is an easy job. The difficulty of being a military chaplain during war comes not from the exertion of muscle and sinew, but from an altogether different kind of exercise. One that is unique to the chaplain, I believe. One that I have not seen explicitly addressed before.

In order to gain a clear understanding of the world of a chaplain you must understand that the chaplain is more than just a pastor in a pickle suit. The chaplain differs from the civilian clergyman in that he wears two primary hats; that of the pastor and spiritual guide and that of the staff officer and advisor to the commander. These two functions work in tandem with each other, the one making the other possible in a military setting. As a staff officer, the chaplain is part of the mission planning process. He speaks with and advises the commander, prior to most missions, of the moral, ethical, and religious aspects of a given mission. As a spiritual leader, the chaplain reaches out to those men and women who will actually be conducting the planned missions to offer them a spiritual foundation upon which to build their actions during the mission.

One of the things I do, and enjoy very much, is to muster with the soldiers as they gather in preparation of an evening of fighting, patrolling, flying, etc. In a word, I see them off. However, this is not the “seeing off” of the movies. This is not the mother, with her hair in a bun and her ankle length dust covered skirt standing on the wrap around porch waving her hanky as her boys head off to war. I’m not there as an observer. I’m not there as a bystander. I’m there as a participant. Instead of a weapon and body armor, I carry a small bottle of oil. As my soldiers prepare for their mission, without interfering with their activities, I walk around and pray for them and with them. It is something spectacular to see an American Soldier, armed to the gills with pistols and rifles and all manner of explosive accoutrements, covered head to toe with Kevlar, and watch him bow to pray as I dab oil on his forehead and pray the protection and blessing of God on his life and his mission. Then to hear that same battle hardened warrior, in a voice shaky from anticipation, adrenaline, and appreciation say, “Amen” and “Thank you, chaplain.” I then move from vehicle to vehicle, aircraft to aircraft, weapon system to weapon system, and like a cammie clad prophet of old, pray for the success of the mission and the safe return of the soldiers. The sounds of clinking armors and snorting horses can be heard as the entire entourage loads up and moves out to the objective, by air, by land, by foot. If you’ve never seen bravado or courage, you’re missing something. I see it before every mission.

Then comes the difficult part of being a chaplain in war. As the sounds of marching armies fades into the distance, the night closes in like a body bag and I’m left with the struggle that few others will ever experience. It is a fight with me and my theology. It is an individual free-for-all of the heart and soul. Alone in the dark, I hope and pray that my part was sufficient. I pray my life was what it needed to be for my prayers to be heard so that my boys would come home safely. Will someone die tonight because I didn’t pray hard enough, or long enough, or sincere enough? Did I use the right words or make the right motions? What in my life might cost someone theirs? This is the battle for the chaplain’s heart. It is an almost nightly occurrence. And I believe it could crush Atlas himself.

It is here, in the middle of questions and questioning, under the weight of the burden of lives not my own, that out of the darkness comes a single simple idea straight from the Throne of Grace. I did my part, now relax and let God do His. I’m the chaplain not the Lord. And until they return, I monitor the radio and continue to pray believing that God can do incredible things in the lives and spirits of my soldiers.

So I may not have the most difficult job, but it is a struggle nonetheless. I may not fight with my men, but I certainly fight for them. And we will continue to fight, physically and spiritually, until the struggle is ended, the war is won, and we can return home to the smiles of our families or the judgment of our God.