On Sending Folks to War

[Last Friday I had the privilege of seeing one of our Texas Air National Guard units off to war.  For their security and that of their families I won’t mention the unit name, deployed locations, dates, etc.]

At once, I have the strangest and most wonderful “job” in the military. I am a chaplain. It’s part of my “job” to talk to people–to be there for them, to get to know them, and just to be with them. They call me ‘padre,’ ‘ preacher,’ or ‘our chaplain,’ which are all titles I am proud to bear because I am proud to serve them and to serve with them. I genuinely enjoy being with my troops.

Today was different.

It was different, because today I sent people that I know and love off to war. I visit with these folks each time we assemble. I see some of the full-timers during the week at Ellington. I joke with them. I cry with them. I drink coffee with them. I talk of serious events and about their favorite ball teams. I lead them in worship. I pray with them and for them. I read them the Word of God. I offer them the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ in the Sacrament.

Today was different.

It was different, because today I met many of their families for the first time–wives and husbands, brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers, sons and daughters. Today, I played with their kids as Mom and Dad embraced for the last time for a while. Today, I held hands and prayed with husbands and wives who were prepared for this day but not ready for it. Today, I exchanged hearty handshakes and smiles with those who looked forward to the adventure, and I gave tissues and a shoulder to those who were afraid. Today, we all bowed our heads in prayer together–those who are faithful to attend chapel and those whom I’ve never heard utter the Lord’s name without a closely-attached expletive. Today, in the midst of the deployment chaos, we stopped what we were doing and asked God’s protection to be upon those who were leaving and those who were left here at home.

Today was different.

It was different, not because it was the beginning of another deployment, but because it was a new kind of deployment for many of our troops. A deployment “outside the wire” where our folks are almost certain to come under fire. “Outside the wire” is the domain of the Army and the Marines, a place unfamiliar to many Air Force folks. “Outside the wire” is where in the harsh reality of war, people kill and are killed.

After we prayed, there was the call to say goodbye and the hurried shuffle of boots and bags out the door. There on the flightline, in Hemingway-esque fashion, our troops waved a final goodbye in the pouring rain and climbed on board the waiting C-130. As the dull drone of the Herc’s four engines revved to life, the plane gracefully lifted off, where it was soon engulfed in the low-hanging clouds and out of sight.

Some saluted. Some waved. Some sobbed.

There is a part of everyone who wears the uniform that wishes they were going too–and an even bigger part that wishes no one had to go at all.

“The Blind Side” — Reflections on Adoption

Yesterday, we enjoyed our first free weekend afternoon in December by heading to the theater to see “The Blind Side.”  In case you are unfamiliar with the story, as I was before yesterday, here’s the summary from the movie’s website:

Teenager Michael Oher is surviving on his own, virtually homeless, when he is spotted on the street by Leigh Anne Tuohy.  Learning that the young man is one of her daughter’s classmates, Leigh Anne insists that Michael–wearing shorts and a t-shirt in the dead of winter–come out of the cold.  Without a moment’s hesitation, she invites him to stay at the Tuohy home for the night.  What starts out as a gesture of kindness turns into something more as Michael becomes part of the Tuohy family despite the differences in their backgrounds.

Through the course of the story (i.e., Oher’s real life), Michael journeys from a violent, drug-wracked upbringing — where he was in-and-out of the foster care system, attended eleven different schools in nine years, and entered his sophomore year of high school with a 0.6 GPA — to an All-American college football player for Ole Miss and a 2009 NFL first-round draft pick for the Baltimore Ravens.

Perhaps the best short summary is the movie’s trailer itself:

As I sat there in the dark, one hand holding the hand of my 13 year-old daughter and the other holding my 5 year-old son in my lap, the impact of this movie hit home like a freight train…in two ways.

For starters, our daughter has no real grasp of the reality behind the drug and poverty-related violence and lifestyle portrayed in Oher’s upbringing.  Talking about the movie afterward, I realized she had no idea that people lived in very similar circumstances only a few miles from our home.  While she knows intellectually about such things, she has (fortunately) never experienced them first-hand and didn’t really understand how physically close to home such suffering, pain, and hardship really exists.

In addition to my daughter’s epiphany, seeing the violence toward the end of the movie where many of Oher’s acquaintances are gunned down in various drug-related shootings made me hold on to my son even tighter.  In case you didn’t know, we adopted our son from Ukraine in 2007, just over two years ago.  Statistically speaking, like Michael Oher, if our son had stayed where he was, he didn’t stand a chance.  To put it into perspective, here are the statistics (from here):

  • Ukrainian orphans typically grow up in large state-run homes, which may house over 200 children.
  • Many children run away from these homes, preferring to live on the street.
  • Children usually graduate from these institutions between 15 and 16 years old and are turned out, unprepared for life outside the home.
  • About 10% of them will commit suicide after leaving the orphanage before their 18th birthday.
  • 60% of the girls will end up in prostitution. Those who run prostitution rings target orphaned girls, who are especially vulnerable due to their lack of options and lack of people who care what happens to them. Though promised good jobs, they end up on the streets and brothels of cities across Europe.
  • 70% of the boys will enter a life of crime. Many of these will die young of violence or end up in prison. Most inmates contract TB in prison.

The point of these statistics isn’t to pat ourselves on the back for doing something so noble as adopting, far from it.  The point is this:  there are hundreds of millions of children around the world just like Michael Oher and our son.  Some of them live five miles away, some of them live thousands of miles away.

How can we help them?  How could we possibly not?

(photo from https://www.4orphans.com)

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