Tuesday, June 1, 2010

The Lord's Army

Memorial Day once more, and my thoughts naturally turn to my father who fought on Normandy Beach in WWII. What it cost him to brave the insanity of that war, to witness friends blown sky high from the precarious haven of his foxhole, I'll never really know. Dad wasn't one to share many war memories; the ones he did talk about usually had a humorous spin on them. When I was a teen and heard these stories I didn't think to ask serious questions. The time for questions came and went, and before I knew it Dad was gone, and his painful memories with him.

But in a sense Dad was engaged in another kind of warfare throughout his lifetime, for he'd enlisted in the Lord's army in his early twenties. Just now that old song we kids used to sing in Vacation Bible School echoed through my head:

"I may never march in the infantry
Ride in the cavalry
Shoot the artillery.
I may never fly o'er the enemy
But I'm in the Lord's army, yes sir!"

What kind of soldier was he in the Lord's army? At times, like many of us, he fumbled. At other times he was a spiritual force to be reckoned with as he shared the joy of his spiritual renewal, and instituted family worship time. There were two conflicting facets to his character I had trouble reconciling, for they seemed at such odds with each other. On the one hand he loved God deeply, loved discussing spiritual truths, reading Scripture and listening to his favorite preacher, Billy Graham. And then on the other hand Dad really struggled with his human weaknesses. At times he drank too much. He had a volatile temper, he didn't do well with authority figures. I never doubted his devotion to God, it was real enough and, in fact, it was this devotion which first sparked my own desires to know my Creator.

What did it mean that he loved God so openly, without apology, but stumbled so frequently? I think it means he was human. The old man of his flesh warred daily with the new spiritual man who so admired the God he'd chosen to serve.

All my life, it seems, I've chastised myself for my weaknesses and failings, expecting nothing short of perfection of myself. I've never found that ease with which Dad accepted his imperfections, trusting that God would change him over time. Once, during my 30's---an especially confusing and difficult time for me spiritually---I murmured my disapproval about something Dad had done or said. With a tender smile he responded with, "It's okay honey, God knows my heart."

My very human father understood, as I am slow to do, the concept of God's grace. He understood, I realize, that the spiritual battle we must fight every day is truly the fight of faith: nurturing our relationship with Christ rather than raging war against our sins.

My father was a soldier in two very real wars, and I am honored today to think that I may in any way be able to emulate the bravery required of him to face what must be faced with humor and devotion.

1 comment :

  1. I see I am a week slow getting over to read this. But I am certainly glad I didn't miss this and am deeply stirred in several ways by what you have written so well. I also can see much better why we resonate with each other. In some ways I and my own dad both were a lot like your dad, except in one key area - our perception of grace.
    I so much wish I could have experienced a knowledge of grace and had the freedom internally that you describe here. My example to my own children was far less appealing than what it sounds like you received from your dad. I am learning that grace can indeed be very messy-looking but if embraced in reality can have a very tenacious hold on one at the heart level. It has taken me much longer to learn about grace while not throwing away all the other ingredients that are necessary.
    Thanks so much for this eloquent tribute to a man I wished I had had a chance to meet myself.

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