Can a Day be About Just One Thing? A Combat Veteran’s View
As a Christian, I regularly attend worship services. During one such time of worship on a Sunday morning in November, the pastor decided to recognize the fact that each eleventh day of that particular month is also a day that our nation sets aside to recognize and offer gratitude to our veterans.
Legacy of Service
I should also inform you, dear reader, that I am a veteran. Among the living in my family I can also state that my father, my sister and her husband my brother-in-law, even my father-in-law can claim that same title.
I actually have a long heritage of service in my family tree going all the way back to the American Revolution and can name the battles and wars and conflicts in which my non-living ancestors served. For myself, I have served in two wars and spent nearly 8 years of my life in combat zones.
So, there it is. A veteran who came from veterans who married the daughter of a veteran in a worship service in early November. Naturally, I am in that number.
If I am completely honest, whenever I am recognized for my service, it is always meaningful. Truthfully, most times recognition offered by civilians is actually unwelcomed for a number of reasons.
First, at heart I am a humble man, and ironically a very private man, and accepting accolades for my military service can feel prideful to me.
Secondly, and purely intellectually, I also know that these same people will praise a goal, a home run, a hole in one, or a well-timed pass for yardage with equal or even greater zeal. So it often feels hollow, and even a bit insincere, when offered because I understand that they have little genuine understanding of what military service truly means.
To carry on even further in this vein of naked honesty, I think I often stoically endure recognition only for my children’s sake. They can look up to those years of service, those military accomplishments spelled out in the arcane hieroglyphics of medals, ribbons, badges, rank, and service stripes on my uniform and they can count the wars I survived just like counting the scars on my skin.
They can see the brutal and violent past that I endured and, indeed, often carry with me even still today, and they can know that they have no need to ever feel ashamed of their heritage.
So I make myself muster a tight lipped smile that somehow still doesn’t reach my eyes while seeking out any nearby fellow veterans with whom I can share a knowing single nod. We share that look and that nod and we recognize each other privately, silently, and our eyes meet, and that says more about my heart than any red carpet or standing ovation ever could.
On this particular Sunday in November, as has become the custom, all of the veterans present were asked to stand and be recognized. Along with my fellow veterans in the room, I did as I was asked.
We were each handed some gift, some token, some tchotchke, by the ushers which I have to say was so unremarkable that I will cease to remark upon it right now. Suddenly, and very loudly, a video played to the tune of “Letters from the War” by Mark Schultz and, since I’m already being brutally honest, I found it trite.
I stood there in my sock feet and tried to ignore the fact that my leg ached from standing. Just to minimize the pain, I had kicked off my shoes the moment I sat in the pew as I very often did.
I tried to ignore the eyes upon me as I stood there in pain pretending the entire time that I wasn’t in pain. I tried to ignore the music blaring throughout the narthex. I tried not to mock the effort in the corners of my mind while the lyrics tried their very best to jerk at least a few tears from members of the congregation.
I counted my breaths and waited for it all to be done and over so we could get back to the business of worship. The veteran’s day box is checked, now let’s all turn to the book of John.
Brethren In Arms
Then I started to notice something. There were an awful lot of men standing. Young and old, single and married, of every race, they stood with the same looks of discomfort and embarrassment as I surely wore. And I realized that for the first time in a very long time, I was in a church on a military installation.
These men were my brothers in arms. There were veterans here who had poured out sweat and blood under the same middle eastern sun as I. There were veterans here who had served in the jungles of Vietnam.
There were veterans here who had welcomed in the new year on the frozen Chosen somewhere south of the thirty-eighth parallel. And God Bless them, there were even a few who had battled the Axis powers in the Pacific or in Europe.
In that moment, I was no longer feeling like the “veteran” title was a little understood word. This was not a congregation intent on just checking a box on a very long to-do list. I wasn’t standing there like some misunderstood freak of nature at a carnival sideshow.
At the conclusion of this worship service, no stranger would corner me and solicit my opinion of this or that current military operation with the sole intent of lecturing me at length about just what his or her grossly ignorant opinion about it was. After all, they get the most current and accurate information from the oh-so trusted journalists at CNN, do they not?
No. In that moment, I was standing beside my brothers in arms. I was surrounded by family. I found myself silently nodding a nod of recognition whenever my eyes met the eyes of one of my comrades. I nodded a lot.
Christ said, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” John 15:13 (KJV).
I was standing not in a church, but in formation, in perfect unison with men who loved me, and would literally kill for me, or literally lay down their lives trying. And I would do the same for any one of them. In that moment, it struck me just how Christlike that attitude of service is, and how honored I was to be numbered among those brave men.
The video ended. The church grew very suddenly quiet. The pastor, a chaplain and also a veteran, spoke very briefly into the silence, speaking about his own military service, men and women he had served alongside, things he had seen and done. His words infused additional meaning into the feeling that I experienced.
My brother in the pulpit knew and understood, and his tight-lipped smile spoke every word for him that he would never utter, and he nodded as he met our eyes, and we all nodded back.
As I took my pew I considered that if every veteran could experience this feeling, this kind of recognition, this kind of veterans’ day service, that it would do a great deal of good.
I thought about how I could perhaps volunteer or facilitate it in other congregations. I thought about the significance of our nation setting aside a single day and declaring it a Federal Holiday for the sole and pure purpose of honoring veterans.
The purity of that intent reached me not for the first time, but certainly that day in the most significant way. I briefly wondered if the men who had just been standing felt as I did. I wondered if they felt valued, cherished, recognized, and honored as I felt.
Then it all went bad.
The next words spoken from the pulpit, and I should note they were not spoken by the chaplain, were, “Let’s also remember all of our military spouses out there. We all know what they had to go through. Today is about them, too.”
My immediate and obviously acerbic question to the speaker may have been something coldly logical like, “What about the veterans who have no spouse? Can today just purely be about them or should they get married right quick? Do you only want to dilute today’s meaning from the married veterans or should girlfriends and boyfriends count, too?”
I should point out, before I write anything more, that I love my wife, Hallee Bridgeman, and I am unspeakably proud of each and every one of my wife’s accomplishments. I hope and pray that this truth is self-evident to anyone who meets us.
What She Is
My wife and I actually married practically on the eve of my first deployment to Afghanistan way back in 2002. We didn’t even live in the same time zone until after we had been married for more than a year. She is a war bride. She has endured many lonesome years without me right there by her side.
At no small sacrifice and rather great personal risk, she has given me fine strong arrows in my quiver in the form of children, all of whom are the very blood in my veins. She is the most amazing and natural cook I have ever met. Her creativity with any dish surpasses my understanding or explanation.
And as you probably know, she has written many books, all best sellers, each of which are a testimony of her deep and abiding faith.
I love her with a visible passion. I provide for her at great sacrifice. And I will protect her with every cell and fiber of my body. Say whatever you want about me. I’ll probably laugh and maybe even agree with you. Say something about my wife, son, and I will do my very best to put you on the floor. I will defend that woman with my very life. That is how important she is to me.
What She Is Not
She is all those things and more. What is not is this. She is not a veteran.
It is true that she is a spouse to a veteran and even the daughter of one and the daughter-in-law of one. It is true that every night I spent apart from her, she spent apart from me.
It is true that she has witnessed the bad dreams that sometimes come or dealt with the irritability I rarely display after a completely sleepless night. It is true that my silence about certain topics that took place in combat zones frustrates her.
It is true that she knows every ache and pain that resulted from years of service. But she has never been in combat.
She And Me
She never saw any of the things I saw. She never smelled the terrible smells that one never has to have smelled before in life to instinctively recognize what caused them. She never executed the lawful orders of those appointed over her that proximately or ultimately resulted in human lives lost or taken.
Her eyes have never looked into the helpless eyes of entire towns of little children who are hurting because they are on the wrong side of an equation that makes up the brutal politics of warfare.
She has never known in her soul that there is nothing anyone can do to ease that hurt and she has never had to reconcile her own part in that equation.
She never laughed and worked and sweated and bled and stood shoulder to shoulder beside the once living man whose ashes we later scattered while his parents, brothers, sisters, young widow, and very young children stood stoically watching and maybe wondering just how much of those ashes were really once their son, brother, husband, father.
She never has bad dreams about any of that. She never spends a sleepless night keeping any of those memories at bay. She doesn’t have any of those memories.They are absent in her because she isn’t a veteran.
Every night she slept alone in our spacious warm bed built for two in our climate controlled home under the security of our well-made roof, I slept on the bare ground under a poncho liner, or on a cot which was either too short or not wide enough, or in a hammock above the dirt floor of a GP Medium tent, or in a “barracks” circus tent alongside a few hundred smelly, sweaty, annoyed men, or sitting upright in a MAC terminal or onboard a helicopter or high powered aircraft whenever I felt safe enough to let my guard down and close my eyes.
No matter where I never really slept beyond the surface sleep of instant wakefulness. No matter where, it was nearly always in the most inhospitable of conditions.
While I ate “meals” that literally could pass for pig slop, usually liberally laced with sand and purposefully without flavors, she ate fresh fruit, vegetables, and lean meats all seasoned and prepared by the most amazing cook I have ever met in my life.
While she could plan a picnic to watch fireworks on Independence Day, I could prepare myself every single day to hunker down in a damp bunker while we were being rocketed or return fire if we were ambushed or rush to the med-shed because they needed a pint of my oh-so-precious O-negative blood.
While she could work out carpools to music lessons or little league practice, I could avoid what might or might not be an improvised explosive device that could take me and everyone with me right out of this world.
I say none of this in a prideful way. My wife gets it. She respects it.
And she does NOT want veterans’ day to be about her. Or any other spouse. Or anyone at all who is not actually a veteran. At all.
In fact, she wants it to be about her veterans. Her husband. Her father. Her father-in-law. Her sister-in-law. To name just a few.
Besides every single day of my life on earth, there is actually a day set aside when I can formally express my gratitude and give thanks to my spouse for the sacrifices she made. That day also happens to be in November. It just isn’t on Veterans’ Day.
What is this compulsion, in our modern culture here in these United States, to dumb absolutely everything down? What is this irrepressible need we seem to have to dilute the power of a single pure idea and pollute it with so many irrelevant impurities?
Why is this acceptable to us as Christians or as a society at large?
Why can’t a single day just be about just one single thing? Why can’t it be purely, intentionally, and solely about just that one thing?
As a living veteran, why in the world would anyone – anyone – think it is even tangentially appropriate to “thank me for my service” on Memorial Day? Oh? Really? Thanks for not dying I guess?
See, there are men I served alongside who didn’t come home alive to their loved ones. Memorial Day is about THEM and not even one jot or tittle about anyone or anything else.
Why not let Memorial Day be entirely about Memorial Day? Why not actually memorialize our honored dead on that day we set aside to do so?
And in case you haven’t guessed already, yes, there is a larger point.
God Is Supreme
I am a Christian. Because that declaration means different things to different people, I will clarify by saying that I believe that there is just one God, Jehovah, and I believe that He condescended to communicate His will to mankind in the form of prophecy and scripture we know today as the Holy Bible.
I believe that the Bible is perfect, inerrant, God-breathed truth from cover to cover. I even believe the cover. I believe that in the beginning man sinned against God and the consequence of that sin is death.
I believe that about 2000 years ago, the Messiah arrived in the form of Yeshua, called Christ Jesus of Nazareth, and that he redeemed us from our sin. I believe that through him and him alone we are saved from an eternity of darkness. I believe these things purely and completely.
While I love my fellow man and respect every well-considered opinion, I do not respect the gross fallacies of secular humanism or this culture’s evangelism of so-called “enlightened” atheism.
I do not assume that life, the universe, and everything just randomly “happened” as a result of pure chance because the overwhelming evidence supports the fact that life, the universe, and everything was intentionally and intelligently designed (i.e.: created) for a purpose.
So here is the larger point.
The One Thing
After weeks of prayerful meditation, I believe that the Holy Spirit spoke to me on that November Sunday and allowed me to feel the things I felt to come to a conclusion in order to make this exact point. Why can’t we content ourselves with letting one single day just be purely about just one single thing?
I think the answer is more than just that it isn’t cool. I truly believe that Satan has convinced us that all things are relative, including the things that happen in the sacred holy spaces of our places of worship.
Focusing all of our energy on just one thing is somehow uncool and unpopular and nothing we can take pride in, right?
Christmas can’t be purely about Christmas anymore. From that very same pulpit on Christmas Eve, when our church bulletins arrived late during our service, a congregation member (not by any pastor I feel I must clarify) announced that we should thank “Santa and his elves” that the bulletins arrived at all.
There are churches today that host “Holiday” parties during which someone pretending to be Santa Claus hands out presents to children. Because there just isn’t enough Santa Claus outside of the church walls, I guess.
I suppose they have their reasons why they would rather put an entirely fictional character on center stage than to commemorate and venerate the birth of Christ the Messiah, that occasion when our creator God condescended to enter into His creation and gift us, generations of undeserving sinners, with his only begotten son, the lamb of God, the lion of Judah, our savior and Lord.
Likewise, resurrection Sunday can’t be purely about the resurrected Christ.
There are congregations who hide Easter Eggs all over the church grounds and have someone dressed as the Easter Bunny hand baskets of chocolate coated rabbits to children.
I suppose they would rather have an entirely fictional character with unquestionably pagan roots take center stage than focus on the actual gospel truth message that Christ the Messiah returned from death itself and by the shedding of his blood gave all of humanity the gift of eternal life.
Who am I but one sinful man? I sinfully and pridefully took offense when I, as a veteran, could not enjoy the very secular holiday of Veterans’ Day and let that one day just be purely and solely about veterans?
How many times have I repented God’s heart when I cannot focus solely and purely on the truth? Every time I dilute and pollute the truth of God’s word with secular nonsense, am I offending my Lord?
Am I simply helpless to collude in the spreading of the lie that there is some fictional character waiting to shower children with gifts and candy instead of celebrating the truth of the living son of God?
Christ is the only pure and single and exclusive way to the Father, the only way to eternal life, so how does this please the creator of the universe when I pollute the Father’s house with impure, diluted, polluted secular commercialized messages? Have I exchanged the truth of God’s law for commercialism?
If Christ were to walk into my congregation today, would he dress up like Santa Claus or hop in with a basket of sugary sweets do you suppose?
Would he even recognize our worship as worship? If he did, would he make a whip from cords and metaphorically overturn our highly commercialized practices of worship?
Or can we find it within ourselves to make worship of Christ the lord be purely and specifically about just one thing – Christ himself?
American Military Veteran