Learning What It Means to Serve by a Soldier’s Example

Wrote this for Asbury’s Seedbed blog this summer:

It was your typical All American dinner. The dad had just carved the meat. The two-year-old daughter made faces at her three-month-old brother in her mother’s arms. The family said grace and grabbed their forks when the phone rang.

The father answered. He listened in silence, his face betraying nothing but his hand gripping the receiver. “Yes sir,” he said, message received, and put the phone back before looking at his wife.

“Do you know where the insurance papers are?”

She nodded, tears forming at the edges of her eyes.

He went into the bedroom to grab some things and was back out in a few minutes. He kissed his children, his wife, and then was out the door, wondering if what had called him out into the night would be what keeps him from ever returning home.

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Training Days

We finished the foster parent training courses a couple weeks ago, and a certain theme really jumped out during the process – being a proactive parent. They gave us a lot of insight into the difficulties foster children will be experiencing as they come into the home and how to identify their needs and help them cope with what’s going on. But it also convicted me in parents our own children – man, I need to be MUCH more proactive with them.

 

Discipline and boundaries need to be consistent, but often how I handle those depends on my own patience or energy level. There are times when I recognize that my 5-year old needs to be a goofball and let out some energy by blabbering and stomping and making monster noises (and I’ll join in) … and there are times when I think that, well it’s really annoying, or he needs to settle down because he and his 2-year old brother are getting too rowdy. I wish I could say I’ve handled his behavior consistently, but that’s not always the case, and sometimes I can see the look in his eye when I tell him to cool it that he’s thinking “Well, you didn’t tell me to cool it the other time. You were being goofy too!”

 

The challenge is to be proactive – to set, and be consistent with, those boundaries, but also recognize that kids need to be kids – goofiness and all. I have a feeling that’s a lifelong course.

When The Story Changes You

If I had a goal for my writing, it’d probably be something like this: “To take ideas/concepts like faith, grace, forgiveness, and give readers a story to see how they can play out in individual lives.”

But that’s only part of it. I write for an audience, but also because I feel called to, because I feel like God is trying to teach me something in the process that is going to be more valuable to me than anything that’s ultimately put down on paper.

Sometimes, it just takes a while to see it.

Hero’s Tribute and Legacy Road both deal with similar themes – grace and forgiveness in broken families. We all witness the need in our neighborhoods, communities and even our own families. The pain can sometimes be tremendous, and I became very aware of this while my wife was a social worker. She worked in both foster care and adoption sectors, so I had a first-hand account of the damage that these fractured relationships did to children, and the endless cycle it created. Consider the following:

  • 50 percent of those in prison right now were in the foster care system (in some states it’s higher)
  • About 1 in 8 children are displaced from their birth parents in some capacity
  • There are children who will have lived with five different families, had 5 different mothers, by the age of 7. And that doesn’t consider if they end up in a group home.

 

In the last year, God’s been working on my heart, my insecurities and inaction. I prayed the prayer for what broke Jesus’ heart, to break mine, and it’s brought me to my knees, both the overwhelming need for his grace, hope and mercy in this world, and my utter failure to respond as His Hands and Feet. The last few months especially have been eye opening as Katie and I have watched a calling take shape and wondered what it will mean for our marriage and family.

This past weekend we completed the first half of foster parent training. This next weekend we’ll complete the last, followed by a home study, screening and then ultimately placement.

My hope is to spend some more time on this blog writing about our decision, and the wonderful things that have happened in the last few months leading up to this. We’re basically at the starting point of the process, and we’ll try to chronicle it as best we can, and be as transparent as we can (and you’ll probably see how fluid the process is).

We’ve already met some amazing people doing amazing work for orphans, both here and overseas. We’ve witnessed other families (including family members) take huge leaps of faith and been inspired by them. And we’ve seen the need to both participate in this mission, and to be advocates for it. You need to hear about these children because they are your neighbors’, friends’ and co-workers’ children. They’re the classmates of your children. They’re families who need healing, who need all of Christ’s love and none of our judgment.

This is their story.

The following is a link to the organization we’re partnering with, FaithBridges.

http://www.faithbridgefostercare.org/

 

 

Respect in the Stillness

I’ve enjoyed reading Jeff Shaara’s new release Blaze of Glory on the battle of Shiloh, one of the reasons being that Shiloh was the first battlefield I visited, as a Boy Scout. And by visited, I mean hiked – about 28 miles in two days, through just about every field, swamp, ridge, “Hornet’s Nest” and past every cannon on the battlefield.

The tour was exhausting, but it left an impression on me. Afterward I poured through any history book I could find on the Civil War, and through the years would visit some of the national battlefields such as Gettysburg, Antietam and Chickamauga. In each place, there was a stillness, almost a natural reverence to respect the lives that were lost on that particular ground. Each time I visit a battlefield I usually find a place to just look out and – listen.

In Legacy Road, I included a handful of sites along the Atlanta Campaign, as Wes and his father work their way through the campaign’s history and their own. Sometimes someone else’s history forces you to reflect on your own, and a little reminder of that now and then is helpful I think.

Why History Matters

Before we moved to Seattle from Alabama in the early 1990s, we visited the city, including a stop at the Space Needle. Nearby was an exhibit that just on the composition wasn’t much to look at – a huge slab of concrete with graffiti sprayed all over it in another language. Its history held its significance. It was a piece of the Berlin Wall, torn down only a few short years before.

Fortunately, that was as close as I got to the Cold War, to the oppressive Soviet rule over Eastern Europe. Other weren’t so lucky.

Bruce Judisch was in Berlin when the wall came down, and a particular moment during all the chaos had a tremendous impact on him. It was the starting point for research into his book Katia. He was gracious enough to answer a handful of questions I had about that moment, about history, and about how other people’s success and struggles have an impact in our lives.

Tell me a little bit about the photograph that inspired Katia.

Bruce: On November 10th, 1989, the first full day after the fall of the Berlin Wall, I hustled my family onto the U-bahn (subway) to Checkpoint Charlie to ensure we all got a full taste of this historic event. After greeting East Germans pouring through the checkpoint, unhindered for the first time in 28 years, we walked northward along the Wall through the celebrating crowds toward the Brandenburg Gate. We were approaching Potsdamer Platz when I noticed a gentleman standing on the street corner with a piece of paper held high above his head. Oblivious of the crowds milling about him, he stood there for the longest time. I discreetly moved around toward the front of him and read the name “Katia” scrawled in red marker on the paper. The curiosity, even intrigue, of who Katia might be, and who the gentleman was, prompted me to snap his picture. I never approached the man. To this day I don’t know his name, or who Katia might have been. However, the poignancy and uniqueness of the moment stuck in my mind and eventually became the seed for the story.

How do you think history can be even more impactful through the eyes of an individual person?

Bruce: I think individual people are the carriers of history. Some witness it; some research it. But boiled down to its finest point, it’s the individual mind that decides to preserve it. There are those who preserve it poorly, whether by lack of skill or personal agenda, and there are those who do it well—as intellectually and morally honest as they can. I hope I fall into the latter category of people, as my story, albeit fiction, carries truth that I think is worth preserving and transmitting. Ultimately, only my readers will decide that, though.

Why is it so important for present generations to learn from the past? What do we lose if we lose that perspective?

Bruce: I’ll avoid the overused adage about being destine to repeat history forgotten, and instead appeal to Scripture. Judges 2:10 reads, “All that generation also were gathered to their fathers; and there arose another generation after them who did not know the LORD, nor yet the work which He had done for Israel.” (NASB) The book of Judges depicts a downward spiral in a bleak period of Israel’s history, and I believe it starts with that verse. Israel failed to teach its progeny the fear of the Lord, and they suffered the consequences of it. You can pair Hosea 4:6a with that, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge,” and the handwriting is on the wall (no, I won’t chase that rabbit to Daniel…sorry J) Israel lost the perspective of its history with God, and we can just as easily lose perspective with our history of the Cold War and the lessons to be learned from it. As a note, the sequel to Katia, For Maria, to be released next month, provides even a stronger reminder of an event that should never ever be forgotten.

As the journalist in your story is uncovering more of Katia Mahler, she begins to learn more about herself. Why do you think other people’s lives can influence ours like that?

Bruce: We see ourselves in other people, perhaps even look for ourselves in other people—something to esteem. Sometimes that reflection comforts us, sometimes it grieves—or even annoys—us. For Maddy, our young journalist, Katia and Oskar come to represent something Maddy longs for, although she didn’t realize it until she spends considerable time with them. The influence others have on us is an essential reason why it’s so important whom we spend our own time with. Even more weighty is the realization that we also influence other people who are looking at us for the same reason. Scripture holds us accountable for that influence.

Our Filters

Reporter's notebook

There was a quote at the end of a biography written by Stephen Ambrose about Dwight D. Eisenhower that has stuck with me (or at least the paraphrase as I no longer have the book):

Biographies often tell you more about the biographer and his or her views than of the actual person being written about.

You need only to peruse the current events section of a bookstore to see evidence of that. How many books are written about a president in a positive light? Negative light? And when you get to popular case studies like Lincoln or Caesar – and especially Jesus – then you can practically start segmenting the biographies into categories.

You can see it filter into news stories and headlines. Is someone “pro” this, or “anti” that? Are they “defending” something, or “taking a stand” against it? How we use those words is often reveals how we feel about the issue.

I think it’s important for us to recognize the lenses we use to filter our opinions of people. That doesn’t mean we make excuses for them when they make stupid or hurtful decisions, but what were their motives? What are our motives?

That was one aim in writing Hero’s Tribute. Here you have this decorated war veteran and football star who was a hero to many, but also a villain to a few, and whose motivations weren’t entirely transparent until he tried to reveal them by opening his life to a complete stranger. Yet that stranger, too, had his own filter, and how he went about the investigation affected the answers he got. It also affected what he did with those answers, which is what I explore in Legacy Road.

 

Image courtesy of Roger H. Goun. Work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution License

Let’s Get Started

Legacy Road, the sequel to Hero’s Tribute, has officially released. It’s available for order now at online book sellers such as Amazon. It will also start trickling in to bookstores. Hero’s Tribute was available at Barnes & Noble, Books a Million, Family Christian Bookstore, etc., so if you see it on the shelves of any of those stores let me know and I will spread the word.

I’ll be doing promotions and book giveaways in the coming weeks at my website and facebook page so look for this in the coming days and weeks. Also, once you’ve read it, I’d love to get your feedback and would much appreciate any reviews you could post at websites such as Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Goodreads. If you’re involved or know of any book clubs or small groups who’d be interested in reading this and even asking me some followup questions I’d love to do that as well.

 

Some links:

 

Book trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aFCw8UnVxJc&feature=related

Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0825426715/ref=s9_simh_gw_p14_d0_g14_i1?pf_rd_m=ATVPDKIKX0DER&pf_rd_s=center-2&pf_rd_r=0FN7DNS3BTJB9XWR8XXC&pf_rd_t=101&pf_rd_p=470938631&pf_rd_i=507846

 

Marriage by the Numbers

Today marks my wife and I’s 8-year wedding anniversary. I figured I would try and do an estimate of it by the numbers. That’s…

  • 2,920 days
  • 70,080 hours
  • 4,204,800 minutes
  • So far, we’ve been in 2 apartments
  • 1 house (that’s been struck by lightning once)
  • Lived in 4 towns (our town became incorporated in 2006)
  • Had 1 dog (with an estimated 98 times he’s gotten into the trash)
  • 2 kids
  • Changed an estimated 5475 diapers (of those a ratio of 80/20 for Katie and I)

And on and on goes the measurable stuff. But what about the immeasurable stuff? Hugs, laughs, cries … My heart’s been filled with joy, over and over again, with a life I don’t deserve and a family I did nothing to earn. I can honestly say not a page of Hero’s Tribute or Legacy Road would have been written were it not for my wife, who is as much an inspiration in her example of grace than any person I’ve ever known.

“A good woman is hard to find, and worth far more than diamonds….” — Proverbs 31:10

You Can’t Go Back

When I was 16, my family packed two cars full of suitcases (and a dog, and cat, and bird), shipped the rest of our belongings on a moving truck and embarked on a two-week trip from Seattle to Atlanta. We were returning to more familiar surroundings. We’d lived in Seattle for about 5 years; in Southern states for the other 11, but it was still going to be an adjustment moving to a small town outside of Atlanta. I’d be changing schools my junior year of high school; getting used to sweet tea and Southern twang again; getting used to having the sun out for more than a brief reprieve.

We crossed the Cascade Mountains on the first day and stopped close to Spokane, Washington, on the first night. I can remember waking up in an unfamiliar hotel room and looking outside to a sunrise in an unfamiliar landscape and thinking – I can’t go back.
Sometimes change is gradual. Other times it’s quick, and final. One minute we’re in one spot, then we turn around and realize that the path behind us is gone. How did we get there again? Where in the world are we going?

The story in Legacy Road begins where Hero’s Tribute ends. Wes Watkins has just witnessed an act of grace so powerful that it leaves him reflecting on his own life and relationships. He can’t go back. I think grace has that kind of impact. It’s disarming, when we see it leap from a mere word or definition and into the actual application in someone’s life. Wes explores that shift in Legacy Road, and it’s not an easy one. He has relationships from his past that he hadn’t planned on revisiting. He has to deal with failure – people failing him, and Wes failing them. We’d like to think that grace and forgiveness is this neat and tidy thing, but it’s not. It’s messy and chaotic when you consider the human element, yet beautiful when you understand that grace is God’s to give.