What follows is a sampling of how, over several difficult years while our oldest son was serving as an Army infantryman, my wife and I sought the Lord and he answered us, how he delivered us from our fears and made our faces to shine (Ps. 34:4-5).
In body, our Sam is a native of Korea. In spirit, however, he has always been true-blue “born in the USA.” One notable manifestation of his love for his adoptive country came on the eve of his high school graduation. He informed us that he had only one career objective going forward: to join the US armed forces. Nor would just any branch do. The burning desire that he ate, slept, and breathed was to become a Marine. With that goal in view, he applied himself vigorously to preparing his body for the physical challenges he expected to face as a soldier. In relatively short order, a somewhat pudgy, untoned boy metamorphosed into a young man whose arms and upper body were a solid rock of muscle.
Given our nation’s military involvements in Iraq and Afghanistan, my wife and I were understandably anxious over Sam’s stated aim. We apprehended that our son’s dream of front-line service might culminate in a nightmare for us in which our precious “firstborn” might return home physically or emotionally wounded—possibly even in a coffin.
As we prayed for favor and protection, the Marine Corps unexpectedly stepped in to “help.” A pre-enlistment physical confirmed the existence of a cataract in one of Sam’s eyes. To his dismay, Sam was informed that even if the cataract were repaired, the Corps would not accept him for enlistment. While Sam’s countenance was downcast, his parents’ faces were guardedly “radiant” over God’s intervention in this fashion. We were grateful that even if Sam succeeded in becoming a soldier, his service would not be with that branch of the military noted for being in the thick of the fighting and for often taking the heaviest casualties.
The setback for Sam (and reprieve for his parents) was only temporary. If the Marines were only looking for “a few good men,” the Army was not so exacting in its specifications. Sam went ahead with corrective surgery, the Army pronounced him fit for service, and the next thing we knew, on a bitter cold January night, our family and some of Sam’s friends were enjoying a last meal together at a restaurant in the vicinity of the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport. Thereafter, we headed to the motel where Sam was to spend the night before flying out the next morning for boot camp in Georgia. We said our tearful goodbyes, hugged one another’s necks, and parted ways, with hearts heavy all around.
Based on my experience as an inductee during the Vietnam era, I feared that our shivering goodbyes outside the motel might be our last communication for an extended period—until such time, perhaps several weeks hence, when Sam was accorded mail or phone privileges. The Lord heard our fears, however, and had mercy on our heavy hearts. Once home, I found that I was still able to communicate with Sam via text and Facebook, and did so late into the night. Additionally, foul weather delayed his trip south by several days, during which time we were further able to Facebook, text, and talk. All this helped to assuage the ache of separation and to diminish the fears associated with transitioning into an unfamiliar situation beyond Sam’s or our control.
After completing training as an infantryman, Sam was assigned to the First Infantry Division headquartered at Fort Riley, Kansas. Eventually, his company was ordered to prepare for deployment to Afghanistan. Upon receiving this news, I recorded a request in my prayer journal that Sam be granted “orders to somewhere else safer than Afghanistan.” The Lord heard and answered and allayed our fears, at least for a season. Due to some pain and debilitation in his knees, Sam was assigned to gate guard duty on post, even as the rest of his unit was departing on deployment. Shortly afterward, the Army decided to cross-train Sam to drive an MRAP. This heavily-armored “mine-resistant, ambush-protected” vehicle was specially designed to withstand the improvised explosive devices that were taking such a toll in dead and wounded. If or when Sam did end up being deployed, we hoped that the shield of God’s favor (Ps. 5:12), plus our confession of the Lord being his point-man and his rear guard (Isa. 52:12), plus Sam’s being surrounded by the literal shield of the MRAP’s thick armor would conjoin to insulate our son from harm.
One fear Sam himself harbored was heard by God even though he may not have articulated it in prayer. As his deployment began to loom large, Sam was troubled that his grandma (my mother), with whom he had a special relationship and who was in failing health, might die while he was deployed, depriving him of the chance to see her again. The Lord heard his heart and wonderfully delivered him from this fear. Sam was granted leave and was able to travel with us to Mom’s assisted living facility for a visit. Both their faces were radiant as they reconnected and loved on one another. The following weekend, Sam departed for Afghanistan. The Monday after that, Mom passed away.
Many another prayer for Sam’s safety during his deployment was heard, and our faces were surely radiant as he returned from Afghanistan unscathed in February, 2013. After an additional year of garrison duty in Kansas, this Isaac-like “son of our old age”—my wife and I were already in our forties when he arrived as an infant in our lives—was actually honorably discharged several months early with no reduction in veterans benefits. By God’s grace, he has largely recovered from the knee and back problems that induced his early release. For this and much more, we thank the Lord, who walked through all this with us.