He makes wars cease (Memorial Day 2014)

This Memorial Day weekend has been fabulous so far. The excellent weather at last (!!) is a great treat. We’ve been working like mad on the inside and outside of the house, playing with the dog, and enjoying time with friends. We have paint in our hair and the smell of bonfire smoke in our clothes. I have a steady stream of cold lemonade in the fridge and fresh strawberries on the counter. (It’s too early for a local crop so they’re probably from Belize or something, but who cares?)  We’re relaxing and celebrating. But when you know what it means to lay down your life for your country, even when you’re one of the lucky ones who got to pick it back up, there’s a somber side to these celebrations, too.
I cry a little bit every year on Memorial Day weekend. I’ve overbrewed coffee, burned eggs, and even excused myself from church services because of this. I have a list of friends I contact every year on Sunday or Monday, and I have to send my love and words honor for their fallen loved ones electronically because I’m usually not composed enough to speak to them above a whisper without hiccuping or entirely losing it. We share the history of sending people we loved to war, but I got a homecoming where they had funerals.
One friend sets a plate for her cousin at every family dinner. He volunteered for a mission while in Afghanistan, which his buddies said he did often. Thanks to sniper fire and a kevlar vest that shifted just the right (wrong) amount while he dove for cover, that seat stays empty.
Another lost her brother several years ago. “It ripped my entire family apart,” she said, “and after a few years, just when it started to feel like God might be real again, I almost died from complications after delivering my premature baby, who was stillborn.” Tolkien was indeed right to say that “the world is full enough of hurts and mischances without wars to multiply them.”
Those of us who had the homecoming have our own sets of adjustment challenges, to be certain. The rates for divorce, addiction, debilitating anxiety/depression, and suicide skyrocket for veterans in the first 5 years after a combat deployment. (I believe the risk goes down a little bit after that, but always remains significantly higher than average.) In addition to a host of other things I won’t go into now, I’m not sure Aaron slept or laughed between his homecoming in 2007 and some point in 2012. A person once confessed to me that her uncle killed himself shortly after returning from a deployment, but they tell everyone he didn’t come home because it’s easier to explain. I think the story they tell is closer to the truth than they realize. Facing combat always results in mortal or moral injury, and I see exactly what it means that “only the dead have seen the end of war.” (I think Plato said that. The internet is not always the best way to track those things.)
As a Christian I don’t have lots of good answers about war. Sometimes I dabble in pacificism, since it’s better to turn the other cheek and all that.  There is a part of me that reflects on the horror of war and says we should never, ever, in a million years, even think about doing anything like that in any form, at any time, in any place. But I also read of horrible things in this world, where bad guys systematically oppress an entire group of people, raping, burning, overpowering, ethnic and religious groups living under constant threat of death or torture. I have watched old recordings from World War II, with Nazi SS officers gunning down Jews in Poland and publicly dancing on their bodies. And I wonder how anyone could call themselves human while allowing such atrocities to continue, even if it takes combative interference. There are no easy answers; war is hell. 
Honestly, I think most scripture passages are extremely confusing on this topic; the Bible does not always shed the light I wish would come here. War is good. War is bad. War is God’s will. War is not God’s will. I think you can twist various verses to say anything you want about war.
“Who is this King of Glory? The Lord strong and mighty; The Lord, mighty in battle.” (Psalm 24:8)
“His name shall be called… the Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9)
“He trains my hands for battle; he strengthens my arm to draw a bronze bow.” (2 Samuel 22:35)
“He makes wars cease to the ends of the earth; He breaks the bow and shatters the spear.” (Psalm 46)
We have to look at it all together instead of playing verse roulette on this one. These conflicts all stem from the original conflict in the fall. War exists primarily as the result of the first war: mankind setting itself against God in the earliest days. God’s response to the Fall explains the enmity that causes all these wars, and the eventual everlasting victory of his promised Messiah.

“I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” (Genesis 3:15)

The solution to the problems of does not come in ignoring the cost of injustice, regulation or deregulation of arms, or the promises of politicians for new foreign policy. (Not that those things don’t matter, or that I don’t have opinions about them. But a quick glance of history shows various groups have unsuccessfully tried to eradicate war since the beginning of time. It hasn’t happened and it will not, no matter how excellent our government.) Instead, it comes individually for now: “He himself is our peace, who has made the two one and destroyed the dividing wall of hostility.” (Ephesians 2:14) It will come corporately when all is made right, when the 46th Psalm is fulfilled: “He makes wars cease.”
This weekend we can celebrate Memorial Day, which honors those who died in military service, because many were defending the cause of the oppressed (Isaiah 1:17), they were acting in obedience to their civil leaders (1 Peter 2:13), and they cared more about the interests of others than themselves (Philippians 2:4). We can mourn with those who have lost someone dear. We can try to emulate those virtues in our own lives. And most of all, we can rest in the truth that war (and the resulting horrors and lost lives) does not have the “final say” in anything.

“The last enemy to be destroyed is death… Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory in our Lord Jesus Christ!” (I Corinthians 15)

at last!

Today, we are grateful for this homecoming and especially honor those who did not get one. (Also we look like babies.) 



There is exciting progress in life at our house lately! Mostly for Aaron – but it’s one of the benefits of marriage that you get to celebrate extra over your spouse’s blessings because of the whole one-flesh thing.

Finally! The book chapter he slaved over, the one that kept us home for Thanksgiving last year instead of celebrating with family, is published! It’s a technical reference publication, not exactly light reading for scientific laymen.

aaron book collage

Finally! The last day of his status as “inactive Reservist” with the Marines was Saturday, so the military chapter of life is completed.

desert "cammies" in the closet - proud to have them, but excited to pack these away !

desert “cammies” in the closet – proud to have them, but excited to pack them away, too!

Tomorrow begins the “chapter” of his life as a twenty-eight-year-old, too. Every birthday I think of the flat-rate box I proudly brought to the post office and sent to Iraq to mark his twenty-second year, decorated with stickers and markers, and it makes me ever grateful for the chance to share the special day together now. So tonight we celebrate with brownies and venison stew, enjoying the luxury of beating hearts, relative sanity, and four limbs attached to his torso, while marveling how old and young this feels all at once.

Greater Love…

I think this is the busiest fall Aaron and I have ever had together! I’m overwhelmed with gratitude for all the opportunities in my path, but I also haven’t been fully “caught up” on my to-do lists in any sphere of responsibility since August. There has certainly been much stretching and sacrifice in this season. I expected this, and it’s a good thing. Thanksgiving break starts in 8 days and that is a very good thing, too.

One of the hardest (and best) parts of this fall has been working on some miscarriage and pregnancy loss ministry. It’s really rough to wrestle with God’s goodness in the giving and taking away of little babies I love, especially when it seems like everyone else just gets whatever they want. That isn’t true, I know; I confess this because I’m terrified by how easy it is to believe these lies.


But today I’m writing about Veteran’s Day, and I find myself wrestling with God’s goodness from the other side of things, where you face awful circumstances and still get what you want. It has been over five years since Aaron was in Fallujah, Iraq and he is, at this exact moment, home safely, married to me, able-bodied and humming the Star Wars theme song in the shower. I’m not sure which one of these things I’m most thankful for today.

And while he slept in earlier this morning, I tearfully composed text messages to dear ones certainly grieving their own beloved veterans who served and did not come home. They did nothing to deserve their sorrow. And even though Aaron is here and safe, we find life mixed up by the aftershock of war even now. There is destruction all around — though I do far prefer our circumstances over the alternative, of course — and this whole thing makes no sense to me.

 …His understanding is unsearchable. -Isaiah 40.

Tell me not, sweet, I am unkind that from nunnery
Of thy chaste breast and quiet mind, to war and arms I fly.
True, a new mistress now I chase, the first foe in the field;
And with a stronger faith embrace a sword, a horse, a shield.
Yet this inconstancy is such as you too shall adore;
I could not love thee, dear, so much, loved I not honor more.
– “To Lucasta, Going to the Wars” by Richard Lovelace

I often read this poem while Aaron was deployed, and I love how clearly it reflects all the conversations we had about war during our preparations for that time, that this military service was a natural extension of his sense of honor, duty, and self-sacrifice. Those qualities I most loved in him demanded fulfillment in these hardships; he would be false to himself, to me, and to God otherwise. It is a rare man who would risk his own life  for the sake of others, and it was true comfort to know this strength came internally, from faith demonstrated by life sacrificed. How can we consider these things and not humbly revere the greatest love of all, that Christ has laid down his own life for us?

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Veteran’s Day 2011
A Cruel Month

customer service

[Image via emilymcdowelldraws on etsy]

Last week marked one full year since I finished my old job so I would have more time for my music studio to make a living teaching piano. We have both learned a lot this year, and I am overwhelmed with thankfulness that the life I had turned into the life I have now.

I worked at a bank for three years, and somehow I think I’ve blocked out most of my bad customer service memories. It was especially amusing when people tried to lecture me about bank policies, as if they were training me or I could change anything about it. Word to the wise: in almost any business, that first person behind the counter has 0% power and deals with 90% of the complaints. It’s a grating position to be in. I loved many of the customers I worked with, but it’s hard to deal with difficult people when you can’t enforce healthy conversational boundaries. The negative interaction that tops them all came inside my first six months there. It began when a customer came in flustered and crying. In addition to expecting me to approve of some dangerous financial practices, my role became difficult when she explained that she just found out her 30-year-old son in the military was being sent to Afghanistan. She didn’t understand why his Commanding Officer wouldn’t change the orders – or give her the time of day – when she called to complain about it.

I had to say something like “Oh, that’s too bad. That must be frustrating,” when I wanted to say “HELLO?! You can’t make a phone call to get your son out of fulfilling his duty to the country just because you’re mad about it. Nobody wants to send their son to war, but he wasn’t forced to enlist. And, by the way, he’s 30!”

Perhaps because my supervisor was standing right over me, I didn’t mention my own experience in this area: I’m a military wife, my husband was deployed (dangerously so) while we were dating, and I’m working here in the midwest because additional deployment scheduling conflicts meant we moved to Iowa instead of southern California after our wedding. Apparently my lack of pity for her helicopter parenting was evident, and she finally wailed, “Well, what am I saying? It’s not like YOU’VE faced any hard times so you’re probably too optimistic or naive to know what I’m talking about.”  Well… not quite.

I have been thinking the combination of people becoming ruder and standard customer service practices are a bit dehumanizing to the people who work behind cash registers. Self-employment is not quite as easy as it sounds, but I’m grateful for the freedom to do things I’m good at and the flexibility to decide who I work with.

A Cruel Month

April is the cruelest month, breeding
lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
memory and desire, stirring
dull roots with spring rain…
– TS Eliot, The Wasteland (“Part 1- The Burial of the Dead”)

I’ve never really understood much of the TS Eliot poem “The Wasteland,” to the point where I’m usually not sure the author even had a logical meaning that anyone was supposed to comprehend. This is totally sour grapes on my part, of course. He just means something I have not yet grasped. So I get lost in every attempt, but I keep coming back to these words because some of the imagery and the opening line, “April is the cruelest month,” resonates so clearly with me.

I have had many good Aprils, particularly 1986, when I was born, and the month is not always bad to me. But rain falls on the just and the unjust alike, so I have seen some cruel Aprils. The worst of them were five and six years ago, when Aaron and I were dating. During the first April there was much weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth, since I was dreading his departure for a deployment to Iraq. (In addition to the cruel April business, Eliot’s poem also says “I will show you fear in a handful of dust,” and confronting the dust-to-dust nature of this all was, indeed, terrifying.) When his pre-deployment training began I didn’t know we would have a brief summer reunion and thought we had kissed goodbye for the year. The day after he left I threw myself into a heap on my bed, surrounded by some girlfriends, and declared “I am being ripped in two!”

"kissing the war good-bye" was above my dorm dresser. also pictured: valentine's flowers.

the "birthday jar" I sent Aaron for his 22nd birthday. I was sick so my mom snapped this while I was in bed.

The second cruel April was a year later, and I was tiredly, anxiously, wearily, fearfully awaiting his imminent return home. It was an awful year in so many ways, and some days it seemed like every breath was a reminder of how fragile we all are. There were funerals, injuries, battles, sickness, nightmares, care packages, letters, emails, and lots of crying (on my part). The experience was more harrowing for Aaron than for me, of course, which appalls me a little to this day.  It has been said that “the darkest hour is just before dawn,” and those words were remarkably true for me that year. Sometime in February, I broke down with a friend while we were leaving the music building. I had been counting down to a rough estimate of Aaron’s homecoming date, and I remember sobbing “There are 73 more days! I can’t do it! This is impossible!” Then it felt like everything was downhill from there, and the last few weeks of deployment were full of insomnia and grotesque nightmares whenever I could get some sleep. I knew after all the difficulty of that year we were not home free yet. Nearly every day I heard people saying “You must be getting so excited!” and I just wanted to scream that he was still in danger and something could still happen to him and there is nothing exciting about someone you love being in a war zone, ever, even if they are scheduled to come home soon.

Then (At last! Finally!), five years ago today, the cruelty of that April came to an end and he was returning home. At that point, I almost wished my insomnia would have stayed a little longer since I was studying, writing, and practicing like crazy at the end of the semester, trying to work ahead as much as possible. Several professors graciously adjusted my scheduled finals so I could celebrate this homecoming – one even handed me an exam, winked, and told me to bring it back before graduation. Grace upon grace.


Aside from the homecoming, which I have written about earlier, my favorite memory of this time came a few days later. Aaron was safely home, and the family sat on the couch praying for his upcoming TV interview. His mom asked that God would give him words to speak to the reporter, and his brother interjected, “English words!”

at last!

at last!

It’s interesting to unpack important lessons after trials like this. A few weeks into that summer, I sat with a family friend and watched Aaron perform important ushering duties at his sister’s wedding. (It was on a beach, and I remember him saying, “oh… sand…”) Someone remarked to me that Aaron’s presence here was proof of God’s faithfulness to us, and springing out of the growth and learning of the past year I had to correct them. Yes, God is faithful and gracious, and we received our loved one back from war… but a terrible outcome for that year would not have changed God’s character. I am so thankful that divine faithful character was expressed in this way, but I can’t pretend God “owed” us this safe homecoming. Things could have taken a tragic turn and that April would have been crueler than all the rest, and we could been weeping through a “the Lord gives and the Lord takes away” sort of lesson in it all. But for whatever reason, that was not the case, and we now reflect on this with humility and gratefulness:

 “Who has ever given to God, that God should repay him?” – Romans 11, niv.

“The LORD has dealt bountifully with you. ” – Psalm 116, esv.

Some of these Aprils have been cruel, but I am grateful for what has sprung out from that.
Welcome home, five years ago today.

veteran’s day

desert cammies in my closet

Today in America we celebrate our Veterans. This is especially poignant for me because I’m married to one. Aaron enlisted in the Marines during college and found out he was going to Iraq shortly after we started dating. He spent a year training for and completing his deployment before safely returning home.  On occasion it occurs to me that things could have been very, very different.  Sometimes I have a little flashback to those days of wondering “Will I ever see him alive again?” when I see a supportive bumper sticker or hear a clueless person rant about war and the middle east, and my heart jumps to my throat whenever I hear a phone with the same ring tone I used while Aaron was in Iraq. I call these things my own “mini post-traumatic-stress” episodes. I mentioned that I had a small kitchen disaster yesterday and my 4-year-old glasses protected my eyelids from strands of hot, exploding squash. As I reflect on the kindness of God’s common protection there, it’s very humbling and a little terrifying to know my own husband’s life was preserved by a much grander series of unknown providential defenses.

I can’t say exactly what reflections Aaron would offer, but on this Veteran’s Day I’ll share some of what I first wrote to friends and family shortly after Aaron’s return from Iraq four-and-a-half years ago.

Have you appreciated the legs and arms and lives of the people you love today?

It is no secret that everyone is “dealt a different hand” in the “card game of life.” God plans different things for each of us. I don’t understand why some things happen to me and not to other people. Why do I have the life I do when others face different circumstances? Why did I get this life and not someone else’s?

My boyfriend was deployed for a year. For seven months he was serving in Iraq, fighting at the front lines. Lots of men in his battalion were killed. This country needs many brave men and women to serve in different capacities. Some work on computers or cook on the bases. Others, like Aaron, kick in doors and perform raids. These men are made almost entirely vulnerable to attacks of the enemy during their operations. On the relationship side of things, his sporadic phone calls were quite infrequent, poorly connected, and very short. I prayed fervently for him every day, and am overwhelmingly grateful for his safe return.

While he was deployed, I found myself occasionally considering the mystery of God’s will that this man was for me and in danger so far away when others can spend a lifetime without dealing with anything nearly so harrowing. Now that he is home, I find myself marveling the Divine plan with a totally different perspective. Why is it I get my love home safe and free from injury when others don’t get a safe return, or any return at all?

At his homecoming, when the families lined the walkway where our Marines marched into the gymnasium, we saw men coming in on crutches, in wheelchairs, missing arms. In the crowd, I saw a man cradling an inconsolable woman. Was she just an emotional mother, aware that her healthy son battled the same terrorists these men did? Was one of these wounded men her son — carried inside her body for nine months, raised for two decades and then sent to war? Did this woman have a son who died in Iraq and should have returned with these men? I don’t know who she was and I don’t know her story, but I can’t forget her tears.

After Aaron’s return, when I was still at school, someone gigglingly said: “I bet you are glad to have him home in one piece!” It made me want to cry. By the grace of God, I don’t even remember who said that to me. They certainly hadn’t seen the same scene I did at Aaron’s homecoming. Many people have used the “in one piece” phrase in conversation with me and I never know how to respond. It isn’t that I don’t like having Aaron home safely; I have never been more glad about anything in my life. Referring to someone as being “in one piece” is relevant for this situation precisely because some people don’t come home in one piece. Or come home at all. And I don’t think it is cute or thoughtful to reference that sad fact in the least.

I am fully, completely, absolutely thankful for Aaron’s safe return and I am so proud of him. Unlike those who throw powerful words around tritely, I know what it is to be glad that someone is in one piece.

I am so glad last year is over!

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil for Thou art with me. …Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life; and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.  – Psalm 23, king james version.