I joined the National Guard in March of 2001. At the time, there had been no major military operations since the first Iraq War, they offered generous tuition assistance, and I had the opportunity to join as a Chaplain’s Assistant. For a college student who was already building debt in school loans and saw vocational ministry in his future, the offer was tempting. I signed my contract on March 13th and went to Basic Training that summer, which could be a book in itself.
After the hardest summer of my life, I came back to Dallas a soldier. I was still a college student, still waiting tables, and still living in a small apartment with two of my friends. The difference came once a month when I put my uniform back on and spend a weekend as the other half of a ministry team for a battalion of fellow weekend warriors.
Most of my duties were as a gopher for the Chaplain. I wrote up announcements, scheduled meetings, alerted the companies of service times, read scripture before the sermons, attended a lot of meetings, and did my own very informal counseling in the in-between times. It was mostly enjoyable. I was definitely not the one standing up and delivering sermons, but I was a part of all of the regular work of ministry and I fired weapons fairly regularly.
Then came September and everything changed. All of the training was no longer focused on general combat, but against the backdrop of desert warfare. The name of the enemy became terrorist and we all knew what was coming. (Please do not mistake this as me giving away military secrets. I mean to describe the inevitability we all felt.)
The next five years were incredibly fortunate. I never went overseas, though most of my company did. The other soldiers I served with in 2001 were all gone by 2007. A very few of us remained. I can’t tell you why I never went when the majority of those standing with me did, but it didn’t happen. I can only attribute it to God’s will for me. I was left in Texas, finished my duty with the Army in March of 2007, finished college, began my career teaching high school English and became engaged to beautiful Camille.
Then I got a letter. Without getting into the long explanation, the military can call a former soldier back into service within two years of the end of their regular obligation. I was given a little less than one month to report, long before our scheduled wedding date in March of 2008. The timing could not have been worse. If I had been sent over two years earlier, I would have been OK, even a little excited at the unique prospect of wartime service. But this was bad. I was planning on beginning work on my Master’s degree the coming summer and our wedding was almost in reach.
Given the great progress already made in that region, the decreasing number of American’s needed, the fact I had not been called in the six years prior, and all the plans we had made as if nothing could change them, the news was terribly shocking. I will leave out some details here, but I can sum what has happened so far: There is a chance I might not go. It involves writing some requests and praying the right people read them. I have taken some time off of work to take some tests, fill out forms and applications, and make many emails and phone calls. If I do go, I don’t know what will happen to our wedding. It will be more than a year before we will really live as a married couple, a delay neither of us wants to face. We are now in a place where I have done all I can. I am having to wait for an answer and I don’t know when it will come. And waiting is hard.
I tell this whole story to share what God has taught me. Like I mentioned earlier, I was making plans as if nothing could change them. I told myself what was going to happen and made no account of possibilities otherwise. I “boasted about tomorrow” (Proverbs 27:1). This entire experience has renewed my faith, dependence and reliance on the Lord. I am reminded that I am not in charge of anything.
Romans 13:1 says that God has established all authority on earth. Like many of us, I can always see another’s need to read a verse but forget what applies to me as well. In the broad sense, it means I should not rebel against my government, speed, illegally download music, or cheat on my taxes. But what about my personal authority over my own life? Has God given me what control I have over myself? If He has, that means I can’t count on my own devices to make my life perfect. I can’t pretend that I have everything under control. Simply, I can’t do this without God.
I don’t necessarily think that all of this is happening as God’s punishment for my lack of devotion. I don’t see God throwing this down on me, saying, “This’ll show him.” Rather, I believe God is using the situation to teach me to rely on Him all over again, which I am certainly doing. I have nothing else to do. I have filled out the right forms and talked to the right people. It is now, and always has been, in His hands.
Losing my own control was hard. I like to be in charge. I like to know what is coming next. I like to be the one who makes things happen. This is a situation where I can’t. A big step towards loosening my grip has been changing my vocabulary. I am saying “I did,” less and, “He did,” more. All of the good I am able to do, think, and say is because of Him. I am not good on my own, but the Spirit in me is.
Losing that control was not easy, but it came with a wonderful side effect. I can feel peace. When I think that I have everything under control, there is still that accurate doubt in my core that tells me I don’t. I have reason to worry when I do this alone. But with God in control, I need not be concerned with all that might happen to me. I can simply know that He watches over me, loves me and gladly takes control.
“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
-Jesus (John 16:33 TNIV)