Medic and Minister: Memories of My Father
At 21 years old, my father was a newlywed with a promising future in real estate. He was settling into married life, preparing for a future filled with work, family, and good times. While the ink on his marriage license was drying, the Army was preparing another document that would change everything — a draft notice.
My father to was opposed the Vietnam War, and was enlisted as a conscientious objector. As an objector, he was given the options of going into civilian government service or going into service as a medic. He chose to go as a combat medic with the hopes of saving lives instead of taking them.
He had plenty of opportunities to save lives. On medcaps, he would go into villages and treat for illnesses like malaria, which was rampant. Often children in the villages needed care for infections due to improperly treated sores, cuts, and wounds. One boy he treated had been hit by a ricocheted bullet that tore his stomach open; and no one had treated the wound. The villagers were happy to see him come; and he was proud to help them.
My father also treated his fellow soldiers. One young soldier had been shot through the mouth, and was just fortunate enough to have his teeth apart when the bullet went through. My father told the story of stitching up this man’s face and how lucky he was. That man’s son ended up at Auburn, and I met him at a fraternity event. It was somewhat surreal.
Of course, not all injuries could be treated. My father also stood beside his sergeant, a good friend, the day he was killed. When he fell to the ground, it was my father who comforted him, and held him as he took his last breaths. My father later wrote to the man’s family, who had never been told what happened that day, or if their son was alone. He let that man’s family know that their loved one was not alone that day, and that he cared for him until the end. The mother wrote back to my father with such gratitude for the closure that he gave her. I keep a copy of her letter as a reminder of how much my father cared about comforting others.
For his own comfort during Vietnam, my father counted on letters from my mother. They were his link to home. My mother still has those letters. Some of them I have read, some too private to share, but all with a nostalgia of war, and fear, and uncertainty. It was a desperate attempt to stay grounded while surrounded by the darkness of war.
In the darkest times, he would pray and beg God to spare his life, and return him to his wife and family. Many of his prayers began with, “God, if you will just let me get back home …” And God did let him return home, but not as the same man who left.
His time in Vietnam had a profound effect on his faith. Being with men as they died sometimes made him the last person they ever talked to, the last person who touched them, the last person to comfort them. His desire to continue helping people and being there for them in their time of need led him to ministry. Business aspirations were no longer his priority.
When he returned, he ended up in youth ministry, then as an associate minister at a church of Christ in Birmingham, before entering full time ministry here in Opelika. His heart was completely into the same things that had touched it during Vietnam, reaching out to the hurting. He continued to sit beside those who were dying, comforting them in their last moments, and praying with them.
He understood better the idea of the battle for the soul, because he understood the depths of war. He knew what it was like to have an enemy who hated you because of who you were, and wished to destroy you. It made him an amazing preacher. It made him an even better father. Even though I didn’t know my father when he was in Vietnam, I saw the reflection of Vietnam in him all the days I knew him. And I knew that his time there had shaped his purpose on this earth. God refined him for his ministry during those moments in battle.
Agent Orange, a terrible chemical used during the Vietnam War, riddled my father with health problems that eventually took his life, in 2013. Since he has passed, I continue to have people tell me that they were led to Christ by my father. Maybe it was a conversation, a sermon, or simply the investment he made in their lives; but he led them to Christ, the ultimate healer. A medic in Vietnam, and a medic from the pulpit — his purpose was to save people.
40 is …
40 is clothes I like.
Wearing what makes me feel confident,
Designer labels tossed.
40 is new hairstyles.
Cut it off,
Grow it out,
Die it purple just because you can,
A daring change.
40 is learning more.
About what’s real,
About who cares,
Learning things you wish you knew before,
Only realized now.
40 is looking back.
Feeling totally okay with those
That did not last.
40 is memories
Of loved ones
Passed on now.
Missing their wisdom when you really
Need it the most.
40 is by design.
Tossing the hate,
Keeping the love,
Choosing to devote my time to those
Who mean the most.
40 is true freedom.
Embracing your flaws and finally
Knowing their purpose.
40 is beautiful.
Trying on your own skin and falling
Deeply in love.
40 is windows down,
Musing if I will ever grow up,
Knowing that I have.
But Have Not Love
As I read through posts and comments on social media, it is so obvious that there is a need for dialogue about racism and unity. The evidence of a society divided is heartbreaking and thought-provoking, at the same time. I have friends expressing hurt, rage, offense, denial, and indifference. It truly weighs heavily on me, as I struggle to find an appropriate response.
What I find interesting is that some of my friends are coming from a completely different angle than I am, yet I respect their viewpoint. Some friends are choosing a side other than the one on which I would stand, yet I feel no need to attack them. Some of my friends are in need of cute cat pictures right now, to help deal with the conflict, and I understand that too. And though I struggle to address all of the thoughts and feelings in words, my heart is still so full of love for these people. All of them.
So, why is it that I can love people even when I vehemently disagree with their political rants or they criticize things that I hold dear? It’s because of love. It’s because I know that, like I Corinthians 13 tells us, that no matter how well-spoken I am, how faithful I am, or how generous and self-sacrificing I am, if I don’t have love, it doesn’t matter. I am nothing!
Thinking of this passage has truly caused me to pause when I see “Black Lives Matter” and wish to respond with “All Lives Matter,” because I agree with both. What I am learning, however, is that downplaying the plight of one group who feels persecuted and unheard is not loving. It only shows a lack of compassion and an unwillingness to help. So, while I may not agree with everything they say or every solution they propose, I must have compassion for their hearts, and for their pain.
I once would have told you that I supported the Confederate flag and its presence, because of the South’s history. Today, I would tell you, that though it does not offend me personally, it solicits feelings of racism and pain for many of my black American friends, and I choose not to be a part of bringing that into their lives. I could, instead, go on a rant about it being a historic symbol or “just a flag” and suggest that they simply get over it; but how could I do that in love?
Has your child ever had a broken heart over something that you thought was silly? I have. When I tell them that it doesn’t matter, and give them all of the reasons that it shouldn’t, I only shut down their dialogue with me. They are still just as upset, but now I have become someone who does not understand. On the other hand, when I acknowledge their hurt, and try to help them work through it, that shows them that I care about them enough to care about what hurts them, even if it doesn’t hurt me. It creates trust and unity with my child. It is an issue to me, because someone that I love is upset about it.
On a more personal level, you may be able to recollect a time when you were hurt over something that was downplayed. Perhaps you just wanted to know that someone else cared. You don’t need an eloquent speech, at that moment. You don’t need to be told to “Get over it.” You need to know that even though your friends are not going through the same experience, they care about it, because of their love for you.
If we are truly trying to be like Christ, we must love. We must think before we react, “Is this response going to show my love, or am I just trying to sound smart/right/informed?” If it is simply intended to put people in their place or to inflate my ego, perhaps it is best left unsaid. We have enough of that in the world. But, the Bible says that people will know we are Christians by our Love. We sing it in church, but do we show it in our behavior?
Sometimes, I think we (myself included) should bring back the “WWJD” bracelets, maybe with “WWJP – What Would Jesus Post,” instead. I can allow my emotions to get the best of me. I can feel my anger pipe up, when I read something that offends me, and I wish to answer to it. I need to pause more, and ask myself, “Is this how Christ would have responded?” Even when it is another who is full of venom, we know that Jesus was never the one to reach for the sword and strike them.
What about me? Am I showing love? Because, when all of my words are written, even if my faith is strong enough to make the mountains move, without love, they mean nothing.