The American Veteran; Why a Challenge is Better Than a Check

I am a Marine Corps veteran.  I served four years as an ‘oh-three, fifty-one,’ Infantry Assaultman.  The role was explained to me as that of a basic rifleman with the addition of rocket launchers and demolitions, which retrospectively I’d say was accurate, and a damn good recruiting pitch for a 19-year old male.

I live in a day and age when veterans are held high.  This has not always been the case, so I am grateful that it is now.  I have a GI Bill that will not only pay for my education, but will pay me to get an education.  Somehow that’s still not enough incentive, but that’s another conversation.  Beyond these benefits, I am compensated monthly for a small bit of hearing loss; I can buy a home with nothing down; and many employers will give me more attention than I might deserve because I endured four years of “standing by.”

Entitlement

I am entitled, America would say, to many things.  Money.  Thank you’s.  A good job.  But sometimes I feel these leg-up’s hinder some of my peers more than they help.

I signed up for the Marine Corps because it was a seemingly insurmountable challenge.  I didn’t know that I had what it took, but I rolled the dice, climbed the hill, fought the dragon and came out the other side; ranked and ribboned (and cockier than ever).

Now, I find it very easy to rest on my laurels.  Many people thank me for my service, but few are bothered by the fact that I and thousands of other veterans are seemingly content to join a life-demanding organization in which we were trained to operate at our peak capacity, only then to be released into a world where I’m tempted to believe my best days are behind me, and few challenges await.

But then there’s those other guys.

Those Other Guys

Just about every recently-discharged infantryman knows at least one dude who’s probably accomplished more than he ever would have now that he’s less one limb.  I’ve got a buddy–Linville–who’s probably on top of Mount Everest by now.  And no, that’s not a metaphor.  He lost his foot to an IED, and now that mofo is huffing it out at 27,000 ft.

My buddy in town has a friend who’s bound to a wheelchair because of a combat wound, and that guy’s got some kind of thriving woodworking business.  He makes wall-hung wooden American flags, or something like that.  I don’t know.  He’s successful.

Another guy I know–Humphrey–got blown up, put in a wheelchair, and started winning skiing competitions.

My Point

I’m not saying these dudes have only known triumph.  I can only imagine the daily challenges they and their families have endured.  But I can’t help but feel like adversity does more to inspire greatness than entitlement ever will enable it.  Give a guy every possible resource and no purpose and he’ll likely sit and get fat.  (I’m looking at you, Army.)  But stand in his way and offer his ego, his anger, his aggression and his manhood something to fight against, and more importantly, something worth fighting for, and he’ll push.  He’ll push further than you or he knew he could, and in so doing he’ll inspire those around him to do the same. 

Veterans don’t need a leg up nearly as much as they need a distant rung worth reaching for.  So please, feel free to honor the service of servicemembers should you so choose.  But don’t be afraid to ask:  “Now what?”

“You’re a man.”

I was walking from the local library to the adjacent recreation center when a ten year-old boy and his friend came into my path.  They were headed in the opposite direction.  One of them, who I’ll call Daniel, said something to me as he passed me by.  My attention was buried in my cell phone so I didn’t catch what he said, but I did manage to give him a look that communicated what I felt:

Why are you talking to me?  Boot.

From the rec center and now with a freshly-vended soda in hand, I returned to the library.  Daniel and his friend had also decided to retrace their steps, and we again found ourselves on approach.  I smirked.  This time I these little shits had my undivided attention.

As we neared each other, I saw that Daniel had something in his hand.  When the gap between us closed to a few steps, he held it out, dangling the small, dark object in a way you might handle a deal rodent.

“You want a rat?!” he said with a juvenile chuckle.

I stopped; no facial response.  It was a piece of bark.  It had some kind of vine attached to it that made it look something like a rat.  The normal, adult response would have looked like me rolling my eyes or saying something dismissive.  But not that day.  Not with this kid.

I grabbed that damn thing right out of the air in which it dangled and chucked it like I was skipping a rock as far as I could.  Then I looked at the surprised boy standing in front of me with the deadest, unimpressed stare I could muster.

Your move, punk.

For a moment, I got a glimpse of a look that seemed to say, ‘Hmph, didn’t see that coming.’  But that quickly transformed into a little dance that mocked my authority.

 “Ooooo,” Daniel mocked.

Asshole.

I shook my head and walked past him, continuing on my way, neither embarrassed or satisfied.  I envisioned an epic moment in which my overwhelming authority abruptly changed the course of this kid’s life for the better.  Instead, it only seemed to give him another opportunity to act out.

As I walked on, I could feel the aura of this little snot following me.  His mockery continued.  So after a few steps, I turned, faced the kid, and basically threw down with the prepubescent punk.

“You got a problem, kid?!”

I don’t remember what he said.  He wasn’t arrogant or stupid enough to become violent, but it still seemed important to him that he hold his ground, even if sheepishly.  I asked him where his parents were.  Mom was at home, he confessed.  Dad; he didn’t know.

“Why you acting like this?” I asked him.

He shrugged.  He knew he was being an asshole, but I don’t think he cared.  My frustration with him quickly turned into a frustration with the world I imagined being around him; one in which walking up to grown man with a snotty comment probably made a lot of sense.  I told him that I understood the temptation to act like a fool, but that he shouldn’t.  He was better than that.

“You’re a man,” I declared.

That statement might not have meant a damn thing to Daniel, but it should, and it bothers me to think that I might be the only person, and quite possibly the only man to tell him this truth in a way that hopefully doesn’t pressure him to build muscle mass or consume women, but to act right.  To act wise.  To respect, and in so doing, be respectable.

Daniel isn’t the only man that needs to hear this message.  As I write this, I realize how appropriate it might have been for Daniel to repeat my own words right back to me.  And because of the privilege I’ve had to be a part of The Crucible Project, I have some idea of how typical it is for men to struggle with feelings of inadequacy largely because no one ever demonstrated how to be or declared them as a man. 

I hope it meant something to him.  It meant something to me.

“Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong.” (1 Cor 16:13)

Why Don’t I Live Like I Believe?

There is a part of my life that requires attention.  More precisely, there is a part of my identity that requires attention.  That is, inasmuch as anything is “required” of me.  I could, after all, go on living without addressing certain issues or subconsciously-believed lies, but that probably wouldn’t be wise if I’m going to live a God-glorying life.

Frankly, I’d much rather focus on that which I feel good at and that which I enjoy.  For example, I enjoy listening to sermons, sharing God’s truth with new people, and preparing myself for a continually more mission-driven life.  Unfortunately, I oftentimes find myself compartmentalizing my faith in such a way that allows me to communicate the truth to others without necessarily allowing those same truths to transform my own life in important ways.

I believe God is worthy of your trust and obedience.  I really, really do.  I just have a really hard time living my own life in a way that demonstrates that belief as anything more than an intellectual position.

The struggle is real.  I find myself able to enthusiastically nod in agreement when I hear the pastor’s preachings, and yet no more than a moment later I am able to completely empathize with and understand the man who is bound by the desires of the flesh.  A foot in both camps, I feel absolutely torn between that which I know to be good and true, and that which appeals.

Those closest to me–those who know my daily struggles would ask:  What is it that you want?  In which direction will you go?  Having batted these questions around for a while now, the only answer that makes sense is God.  I want God.  I want to know and feel eternal satisfaction.  Nothing else will do.  And look, I know–even if only on the intellectual level–that nothing will satisfy me in the way that only God can, but until my final day arrives and my eternity begins, how will I live?  What does it look like to live my life starving for that which I cannot have; starving for He whom I cannot yet fully know while maintaining my integrity?

I am indebted to David Platt for the analogy of snacking before the feast.  Platt once challenged his Birmingham, AL congregation to realize the foolishness of snacking before arriving at a glorious buffet.  Surely, if you knew you were going to have access to the most amazing meal of your life later today, you would not snack on junk food up until then.

God:  Please help.  Please help me to wait patiently and obediently, rather than as one who is content to act foolishly until the trumpets sound.  I don’t want to bend my knee only when it seems convenient.