Monday, December 9, 2013

God's Orchestrations

Head spinning and knees ready to buckle, I stood on the parade field. I had been sick for several days, but I was NOT going to miss our graduation for boot camp. I was in the U.S. Army at Fort Ord, California and we were one day away from the ceremony that would mark the end of the beginning of our military duty. I was sick with the flu, but I refused to go on "sick call."

During the previous two or three nights, I had to wrap myself up in several blankets to stave off the chills. I slept all I could and got up each morning with enough energy to get the day started. As it wore on, I became weaker and weaker, with me plodding through classes and physical training, then finally dropping into bed as early as possible. Now we were at the last day of training and I was standing in formation on the parade ground; this was the final run-through of the ceremony which would take place the next day.

That night was the hardest of all. Other men in my unit were busy getting ready to enjoy graduation and I was bundled up on my bunk shivering. Several interruptions during the night added to my physical discomfort. Each time something woke me up, I wanted nothing more than to roll up in wool blankets and go back to sleep. The morning arrived with just enough hope that I could get through this last day. The graduation went as planned; I barely remember it. It was what happened after the graduation that was forever etched in my memory as one of God's mysterious ways.

Some of the men in my unit had family who came in from nearby cities for graduation. Others just took advantage of the liberty granted to them and headed into town for the night. I went back to my room, wrapped blankets around me and went to sleep. Late that afternoon, a couple of the guys came in to check on me. I will never forget their kindness. Others were out partying and these two guys from the Deep South were concerned about me. They told me they thought I should go on sick call. I was finally so ill that I simply said, "Okay."

The Fort Ord hospital was right across the street from our barracks. My two fellow graduates walked me across and took me to a medic who was on duty. The medic heard my symptoms and stuck a thermometer in my mouth. A couple of minutes later, he pulled out the thermometer, looked at it and walked out of the room. My temperature was so high that he came back in wearing a surgical mask to help protect himself from whatever I had. "We're admitting you to the hospital," he said. Within a few minutes I was upstairs in bed, being filled with medication and given strict orders that I had to drink a huge glass of fluids every few hours.

The next day, Friday, was transition day following graduation. Everyone was shipped off to their next duty station for advanced training. Many, like me, were assigned to schools at Fort Ord, so they were simply "shipped" to a different barracks on another part of the base. I, however, was lying in the hospital. I was told that I would stay administratively attached to my basic training unit until we knew how long it would take to recover. Then I would be assigned to an advanced unit for my next phase of training.

Cathy and I were in our first year of marriage at the time. Those brief months of separation felt like forever to us. We had been told that we could live off base during the next phase of training so we made plans for her to fly out. She was scheduled to arrive the Monday after graduation, Memorial Day. Fortunately I was much better by Saturday afternoon and was released on Sunday morning.

The following Friday was another transition day on that large training base and I was "shipped" off to my advanced training unit. I wrongly thought that I would be with the guys from my boot camp unit who were attending the same school. Instead, I was assigned to the company right next door to theirs. When I arrived, I discovered that the possibility of living off base with my wife was completely up to the Commanding Officer of the company to which I was assigned. Fortunately, Charlie Company's CO was inclined to let us have this privilege, within very tight restrictions. I wasn't there very long before I ran into some of my own buddies from basic and the conversation came up. Their company commander was unwilling to let them live off base, even if their wife was there.

I spent a very sick weekend in a hospital and it opened the door for me to stay with my wife rather than living apart. God orchestrated my illness to give us a great blessing. Also, Cathy's presence during that season helped open up a whole sequence of events that changed the direction of our lives.

The Christmas story contains pain, hardship and even the slaughter of innocents, with God orchestrating it all to accomplish His greater purposes. If you look at the story with the eyes of faith, you can begin to understand a little more of the mystery of God's work. We will talk about it this weekend at Stone Ridge Church. Can't be there? Catch the podcast!


Friendly Light Up Ahead

I usually took a shortcut across an orchard and through a couple of barbed-wire fences. Dodging cow patties was no problem and well worth the effort when the fruit was ripe. "Ripe"was a relative term for me as a kid; by the time the Jonathan apples were about an inch in diameter, I was forever grabbing one off the tree to eat. I actually liked the Yellow Delicious apples better green than ripe. Worth the effort indeed! But, sometimes the shortcut wasn't available. That's when I had to take the long way; the country road next to our house.

My destination was almost always the same. My best friend Mike lived around the corner from us, less than a quarter mile away. Whether we walked across the orchard or on the road, we each burned up the trails between our houses. Day and night, every season of the year, we were almost constantly together. Even today, I can "see" almost every step of the way. I picture walking up the Smith's driveway and around the back patio into the back door. With adult eyes, I imagine looking down upon myself as a kid. I see a carefree boy walking, running, and skipping, picking up a rock to throw at a fence post, pulling the mature head from a blade of grass and chewing on it to taste the sweetness.

Those memories have faded with time, but one night I made a trip to Mike's that I won't ever forget. One of us called the other and we decided that I would go over to his house. I told my parents where I would be and walked out into the night air. As I stepped into the shadow created by our front porch light, I realized how dark it was. Moonless, the night sky was ablaze with stars, but they weren't enough to really light my path. At that time, none of the people in our country neighborhood had streetlights. Without the moon, it was hard to even see the road I was walking on. One or two neighbors, like us, had their porch lights on; otherwise it was pitch black. Only those few familiar points of light helped me know when I got to Mike's.

For you to get the full picture, you need to know that I was a little afraid of the dark. Not terrified, but just a bit fearful of what I couldn't see out there. With heightened senses, I noticed every tiny sound, concerned that the din of my own footsteps would awaken some pouncing horror. Step by tenuous step, I walked along that road. Then I saw Mike's driveway and felt the comforting glow of lights shining inside his house. I walked around the side, into the darkness of the back patio area...

...where Mike jumped screaming out of the shadows and scared the living daylights out of me!

I'll never forget that trip. I thought of it again recently as I pondered some profound verses about light and darkness:

"God is light and in Him is no darkness..." (1 John 1:5)

"People loved the darkness more than the light." (John 3:19)

Truth is, we all enjoy the darkness at times, especially when it hides our own inner darkness. In the end, though, something in us wants to find a familiar driveway and the warmth of friendly light up ahead. Light is one of the great promises at Christmas. We talked about it recently at Stone Ridge Church. Catch the podcast.