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Posts Tagged ‘Vietnam’

My soul waits for the Lord

More than watchmen for the morning

More than watchmen for the morning.

Psalm 130:6 (ESV)

For many years I felt I possessed an insight into this verse that a lot of people could not appreciate. Whenever I read this verse, invariably an image would come to mind of experiences I had in Vietnam. I remember being on guard in Vietnam, staring out into the darkness, praying that I would see nothing throughout a long and fearful night. Most of the time, the night would pass uneventfully, although it was not always to be so. But it’s that image of staring out into a darkness so black that it seems to envelop you that I most remember. Can you imagine the relief when daylight finally arrives and most of the danger is over? And that’s how it must have felt to watchmen on the city walls in the ancient world; fear turning to relief with the promise of one more day.

As I struggle to deal with a diagnosis of terminal lung cancer I feel some of that same anxiety. I see before me a darkness that threatens to swallow me up with no promise of daylight at the end. You see, I understand that life is too uncertain and our fears too real for them to be explained away simply by quoting an inspirational verse. You can quote this verse (and hundreds of others) to me, but the darkness is still there and the struggles ongoing.

So, what should we do with verses like this? First of all, be careful before you post an inspirational verse on social media. Can you understand that I now have two perspectives on this verse that many of you cannot identify with (Vietnam and cancer)? Posting a verse such as this provides little encouragement to me, unless it is put into a context that recognizes the full reality of my situation. I would even suggest that until you have experienced real hardship in life, perhaps you may not be the best one to provide encouragement. Better to leave that to those who have some battle scars and have experienced struggle firsthand.

So how can this and similar verses encourage us? Certainly not by some “health and wealth” platitude that everything is going to work out fine. From a material perspective, it may not. Yes, I can and do look forward in faith to a time when the darkness is over and an eternal morning dawns. I believe that, but I still have to deal everyday with pain and struggles that are so real I am reluctant to describe them. I have to watch my wife step in and do so many things that should be my responsibility. And although she does so magnificently and without a word of complaining, it is hard for me to accept.

So, just in case you missed it, here is the lesson with which I would leave you. Please recognize that life is real and struggle is part of it. For many of us the darkness is always there, ready to engulf us. Simply posting an inspirational verse or quotation by itself is not enough. Do something to acknowledge that you recognize the reality behind it. The last thing someone struggling with a serious problem needs is for someone to post something that just adds to their guilt, because they do not have a blind faith that takes away all of the fear. And as much as I long for the morning, today the darkness is still there. So, leave me with encouragement as I struggle with that darkness, rather than guilt because I am still struggling.

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In 1998 I wrote my memoirs, describing my experiences with the U. S. Army in Vietnam during 1969-1970. The title of the book is In the Shadow of  Dragon Mountain. This book is available for download free of charge in a pdf format which has been sized appropriately for the IPad or a similar size tablet. Go to the “My Books” tab at the top of this blog to see the description and instructions for downloading.

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Thanksgiving

Anyone care to guess what my favorite holiday was when I was a child? If you didn’t immediately think of Christmas, I would have to wonder about you. In later years, however, Thanksgiving is beginning to take its place, if only because of its simplicity. There are no presents to buy or wrap. You don’t have to keep up with the Joneses in terms of gifts, decorations, or anything else. For most of us, Thanksgiving revolves around eating too much, with perhaps less guilt than we would normally feel for doing so and, of course, sharing it with family. This year we will be gathering with some of our  family, while others will have their own celebrations.

We pursue happiness, but I’m not certain we really understand what happiness is. It has become a cliché to look at celebrities who have everything that is important in our culture, but whose lives spiral out of control, leaving broken families and heartache. But if it is a cliché, it’s only because it truly reflects the emptiness of that kind of pursuit of happiness.

Some of you may be having difficulty finding anything for which to be thankful this year. Perhaps you’re struggling with issues that seem ready to overwhelm you. It may be that you do not have family to celebrate with you, and the holiday itself actually emphasizes the emptiness you feel.

I can identify with both of those feelings. This time last year my wife had just finished chemo, but we knew that surgery and radiation were going to follow quickly. And we did not yet know how effective those treatments would be. We can face Thanksgiving this year with more confidence and more joy. Actually, the previous year’s experiences have made us appreciate even more the blessings we have.

I am also reminded of the time when I celebrated Thanksgiving without any family to share it with. It was in 1969, and I was in the Central Highlands of Vietnam. By that time I had been in Vietnam eight months, eight months that seemed like an eternity. I had just turned 24 a couple of weeks earlier. The comfortable world I thought I remembered had come to seem unreal. It was as if Vietnam was reality, and home was a dream. But on Thanksgiving Day, for a short time I was able to pause and allow myself to remember that “the World,” as we called it, was still out there. The military provided us with a traditional Thanksgiving meal. There was even a printed program which I have saved for 43 years. You can see what a feast was provided.

1969 Thanksgiving Menu, Vietnam

Along with the menu was a prayer by the battalion chaplain which you can read below.

Chaplain’s prayer, Thanksgiving, Vietnam 1969

I mention these events, because I don’t wish to appear naïve. I recognize that loneliness and hardship are very real. But money and fame can never by themselves bring the happiness we all seek. Indeed, I have come to believe that thankfulness is one of the keys to happiness, and finding something for which to be thankful has the capacity to touch and perhaps even heal our hearts.

In the 1960s a writer named Kahlil Gibran became popular in that mystical “Age of Aquarius.” In his book, The Prophet, is one sentence that has always spoken to me.

“And could you keep your heart in wonder at the daily miracles of your life, your pain would not seem less wondrous than your joy; And you would accept the seasons of your heart, even as you have always accepted the seasons that pass over your fields.”

I hope your Thanksgiving contains all the bounty, both physical and emotional, of a Norman Rockwell painting. If it does, consider yourself blessed. If you find yourself in a season of pain or discouragement, I encourage you to search carefully for something for which to be thankful. Perhaps even reach out and touch someone else who is also finding difficulty celebrating. Either condition has the potential to bless us, if we allow it to.

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