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.

If You’re Not Making Disciples Locally, Why Would You Globally?

“Aviation does not create transformation.”
David Platt

 

I just finished watching David Platt’s Q&A session via Twitter (available here) about the direction of the International Mission Board (IMB), in which he noted that if you’re not making disciples where you already live, work and recreate, it’s not likely that you’ll begin making disciples once you arrive somewhere overseas.

This needs to be said, maybe to others, but certainly to me.  I have a newly developed passion for the Great Commission, largely because of what I hear Jesus Christ saying through the intense teachings & writings of David Platt, but I’m conflicted because I feel like there’s an epic story waiting to be written, if only I could break away from my mediocre life.

And while there might be some truth to that, the unfortunate way in which I typically express that frustration is toward my wife.  I sometimes, unintentionally, find myself thinking of our relationship as an obstacle to my ability to learn new languages, boldly travel to dangerous places, and powerfully share the gospel where few others would dare.  Added to our relationship, now we also have a newborn daughter whose smile I could not love more and whose laugh absolutely intoxicates me.

The simple truth is this:  I use my family, and especially my marriage, as an excuse not to make disciples, either within my family or outside of our home.  I complain about having to juggle so many responsibilities when I’m really not responsible for much more than my family.  I’m regularly stressed out, but not because I have much to be stressed about.  I’m just high-strung.  And I probably wouldn’t be making a ton of disciples in the Middle East if I were there right now, because I’d probably find other excuses to get by on.

To be clear, I do not believe that discipleship ought be confined to my family.  They are, to me, certainly of higher priority than the world, but my ability to influence others for the the sake of Christ should not be confined to my home.   I can affect my neighbors, my local church, guys at the gym, and so on.  I can figure out a way to engage with those younger guys at Sonic that I chose to ignore earlier tonight (they just seemed annoying), and I can operate as one who was sent here, rather than as one who is restrained here.

Lord:
I’m sorry I’ve complained so much.  Please remind me that I am sent here.  That I am on mission, within my family, with the people I interact with at work, and on my “off” days.  Please help me see through my own BS, that I might know the satisfaction available to me in allowing your desires to be my desires.

It is done.

Why I’m Afraid to Write

I can’t count how many times ‘Write a Blog Post’ has popped up as a notification on my phone.  I’ve successfully avoided it time and time again, opting instead to do other “good” things that I can justify and feel okay about–but that do not challenge me in the way writing does.

I am afraid to write because written word seems so much more permanent than spoken word.  In a spoken conversation, my expressions are momentary, and if you disagree with me I can usually clarify on the move so as to make myself feel better about my stance.  But here, it’s just out there.  And internally, I deal with questions like:

You sure you want to say that?  Y’know, somebody could bring this up later and hold you accountable to this?  And you’re pretty young to be writing.  You sure you’ve got life figured out enough by now to start writing?  Tim Keller and John Piper would probably get a good chuckle seeing this naive attempt to make a point.  ‘Nice try, kid.’

Writing intimidates me.  I’m not sure I feel qualified to have a written opinion.  I’ve changed the title/tagline of this blog more times than I can remember.  I worry that I’ll someday run for a high-profile political office or position in vocational ministry and be presented with a question regarding a blog post I made when I was struggling to make a point on the internet.

Insecurities suck.

That’s all.

Church is More Than a Place to Make Friends

By most standards, my local church is a large–dare I say, megachurch.  A couple thousand people fill the seats every week.  My wife and I have been attending for about three years, before they moved out of the high school and into their exclusive space.

Occasionally, I ask my wife what I believe to be deep, introspective questions, like, “Why do we go to church?”  She usually rolls her eyes, uninterested in entertaining my squinty-eyed search into her soul.  But sometimes she answers.  Sometimes I answer first just to get things going.  Here’s what I think to be true:

We typically go to church for one of two reasons:  Habit and friends.

I was raised in the Catholic Church.  My wife was raised in a Southern Californian, non-denominational Protestant church.  We attend our current non-denominational church every Sunday partly because that’s just what we do.

We also go to church because, thanks to a few small groups we got involved in early on, we’ve made some friends who we enjoy seeing.  And if I’m being honest, I like being recognized by other people in the church.  I think it makes me feel important to some degree.  I belong.  I’m vested.  I’m noticeable.  I’m a part of something bigger than myself, and for better or worse, that makes me feel good.

But that’s not the point of church.  The point of church is to provide believers with a community in which they can worship and glorify God.  It is a place where we can identify and develop our spiritual gifts.  It is an environment in which we can encourage and love one another, and compassionately hold our members accountable to God’s commands.

The Point

I’m not saying it’s wrong to make friends at church.  Certainly, that will likely happen naturally as we encourage and challenge one another.  Rather, my encouragement to you (and myself) is that we would maintain a healthy perspective; one in which we acknowledge that while human relationships are important, we are ultimately living to glorify God, and no human relationship should be permitted to have a higher place in our heart that our bond with Christ.

They May Never Ask Where the Hope Comes From

I once worked with an older woman who always came to work smiling. She was always cheerful, almost to the point of annoying, but thankfully just shy.

I personally appreciated her attitude, mostly because I was a manager and I felt a level of responsible for the morale of our work environment.  That said, it never occurred to me that I might ask her why she was the way she was, or what motivated her joyful disposition.  I admired that aspect of her, but that’s it.  At best, I may have envied her, but that’s where it ended.

Maybe that says more about me than I’d like it to, but even now, I’m pretty content not knowing why she was as she was.  I suppose I assume now, as I did then, that she was a Christian.  But she may as well have been Mormon or into stones and healing energies or anything else.  Maybe her attitude was a byproduct of a great self-help book.  Maybe that’s how her mom was.  Maybe that’s how her mom was not.  Whatever the case, I never asked, and I’ll probably never seek her out in order to ask.

And here’s the thing:  I don’t think you would, either.

Hoping for an ask

1 Peter 3:15 encourages Christian disciples to “always [be] prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you.”  And so we should.  But having an answer prepared doesn’t mean it ought only be offered upon request.  Jesus often took the initiative.

Consider:  If you are a Christian, and you sincerely believe that we have been saved from an eternal abyss that we deserve, and have instead been provided a means to eternal glory in community with the Creator of the universe, His angels and all the rest, how does it make any sense that we would only share this with those who are lucky enough to ask why we smile so much?

I realize no one wants to be the infamous “bible thumper” who scares more passersby away from the gospel than leads to it, but there’s got to be other ways to initiate the conversation.  Because while pouring soup and moving furniture is thoughtful, these things don’t set anyone free from eternal separation from God.  Truth sets us free.  Christ sets us free.

“How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can they preach unless they are sent?” (Rom 10:14-15)

For Christ’s sake–for their sake, preach!

Anxiety

I get anxious because I often want to know that what I’m doing is important, and I worry that what I am doing isn’t as important as what I could be doing.  Opportunity cost.

Sometimes this creates healthy angst that leads to ambition that leads to results, like joining the Marine Corps or popping the big question. But more often I think this just makes me a pain to be around.  Too much dissatisfaction with the status quo and my place within it can easily becomes cynicism that doesn’t do much to foster change so much as it does create stress on those closest to me.

So, dear Andrew:

The time you spend with your friends and family is significant, and if you never get around to writing that best-seller or landing the dream career, but you do make time to regularly communicate to your family that you love them, and to your friends that you value them, that’s more than okay.  Goals are great, but fans won’t comfort and likes won’t love.  So relax, do your best, and thank God that everything that needed to be done was done.

Carry on.

But What Are You Doing About It?

Personally, regularly, and consistently.

There are many good changes to be sought, but complainers aren’t typically leaders.  So how are you personally contributing to the change you hope to see?

Float Story

In 2009, I was deployed aboard the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU).  I was a Corporal, and as such had deemed myself worthy of having a critical opinion of just about anything and everything Marine-Corps related.  My command, my company, and the Marine Corps infantry as a whole were common targets.

In reality, I had a very narrow view of the Corps.  There were many things that I didn’t know, and while my frustrations weren’t necessarily unwarranted, they were exaggerated.

So when it came time to create a “float book,” or a deployment-style high school yearbook, I naturally rolled my eyes.  Not long thereafter, I found out that I would be assigned the responsibility of organizing my platoon’s picture page in the yearbook.

So, being me, I invested some considerable time in developing the wittiest captions I could muster up.  I did so unaware that our company commander, a former infantry-enlisted Corporal himself, would be personally reviewing each platoon’s submissions.

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Fighting to Train

My witty caption beneath a photo of a few Marines on line, aiming in on targets, was a proud creation in which I flipped the common military phrase, ‘training to fight,’ so that it instead read, ‘fighting to train,’ which I personally thought provided for a much more accurate description of our training climate.  My CO wasn’t quite so amused.

Having summoned me to his office, the CO could have just chewed my ass and sent me on my boot way, quite rightly.  However, I remain grateful that he instead took a moment to hear me out.  He appreciated his non-commissioned officers (NCOs), and compassionately allowed me to vent my frustrations about our hurry-up-and-wait lifestyle and check-in-the-box training.

Captain Morosoff empathized with me that day, and then he asked me:

But what are you doing to fix it?  What are you personally doing about it other than bitching and moaning and making witty remarks?

That landed.

Sometimes I wish my pastor would say the same thing, because enjoyable and convenient as it is to chuck sarcastiballs from the bleachers, saying this is how it should and this is what you people should be doing, it’s not constructive.  And in reality, I’d probably do the same thing or worse of a job if in their position.

Takeaway

It’s not wrong to be frustrated, or to desire change.  But before we criticize our wives, our children, our employers, and our churches, maybe we ought to consider whether or not we’ve actually done anything personally to foster a difference.

I want the church to be more disciple-making oriented, but am I disciple-making oriented?  Can the church look at my life and not need me to say a word in order to see an example of disciple-making?  Can my wife spare the lecture from me on how she ought love and respect me, and instead see me loving and respecting her?  Or am I just talking?

If it’s wrong and it can be made right, what beyond moaning and groaning am I personally doing about it?  And if I’m not doing something to make the change I want to see, what can I start doing that doesn’t require the permission or endorsement of someone else?