The Blog: On Second Thought

Nashville Predators- Mike Fisher

I have never followed professional hockey in my life. I grew up in the Panhandle of Texas, and I’m not sure that there was even a single hockey rink in those hundreds of square miles. No one talked about hockey when I was a kid. Baseball was even kind of an afterthought. Football was, and is, king. Basketball just got us through the winter.  

Though certain sports, hockey included, aren’t part of my DNA, I’ve learned to watch and enjoy them over the years, especially when the team is doing well, which is the case for this year’s Nashville Predators.  

Sometimes I’m more drawn to the players themselves than I am the game that they play. That’s one of the things that makes sports so compelling – knowing the individual stories of the athletes. Watching them overcome adversity, whether in their childhood years or after they achieved some level of success.  

Mike Fisher, captain of the Nashville Predators, is one of those people.  And right now, he and the Predators are going after the biggest prize in all of professional hockey – the Stanley Cup.

So, the big question is: what does it mean to be second when you’re pursuing the position of Number 1? Can you still be second to God and others when the goal is to be the very best in your chosen field of endeavor? I want to do the best I can be in my job. I want to be the best father I can be. Deep down, I want to be first. First, while being second.  Seems like an oxymoron, right?  Well, not really.


Living second doesn’t mean that we don’t give our best. It doesn’t mean we’re a doormat for others. It doesn’t mean that we don’t strive to be better than we were before and reach for the stars.


We have all desired to be number one at something. Whether it was finishing a race as a child or your place in line when the new iPhone came out. First feels good! First is first for crying out loud!  What did Ricky Bobby say? “If you ain’t first you’re last!” And the general consensus is that the late Dale Earnhardt is responsible for letting us all know that second is the first loser.

Well, you can actually live second and finish first. That is what Mike Fisher of the Nashville Predators is trying to do right now. They won some very tough games in the playoffs, and now they’re right in the middle of pursuing the biggest prize in professional hockey – the Stanley Cup.  Knowing what we know about Mike, I am confident that he is giving 100%.

Living second doesn’t mean that we don’t give our best.  It doesn’t mean we’re a doormat for others.  It doesn’t mean that we don’t strive to be better than we were before and reach for the stars.  

But it does acknowledge that the people in our lives are ours to serve and love and support.  And that God wants each of us to put our pride and ambitions aside if those things are damaging to others. Living second is a win/win. It puts a balance in our lives that can’t be achieved through the constant pursuit of ‘self’.

As the Predators continue to win in their pursuit to be the best in the world, I think it’s safe to say that their Captain understands that winning in life, through living second, is the sweetest victory of all.  

And that’s the main reason I’m watching. Mike Fisher brought me to hockey.  I was a fan of his story and his character before I knew anything about his sport. If you haven’t heard his story check it out here. I know enough about him to know that he understands that there are more important things in life than winning. How we treat people while we’re on this earth, and the legacy that we leave behind in the small things transcends any victory that we might achieve in our professions.

So, when the remaining games in this Stanley Cup final are on television, you know where I’ll be – cheering on the Preds, knowing that whether they win or lose the most important things have already been won. This small town boy from the flat, arid lands of Texas, where a hockey rink is less common than a UFO sighting, is a fan for life.   

 

Stan Fletcher’s day job is showing people around Lieper’s Fork Distillery as a tour guide.  He writes music, plays the guitar, and performs weekly at various spots around Nashville.  He has been involved in various aspects of I Am Second since the beginning of 2016.  Stan was a pastor in Seattle and Scottsdale for 13 years.

(Photo source: pexels.com)

In the Friends” episode, The One That Could Have Been, Fat Monica is sitting at her kitchen table with Chandler, upset that her boyfriend ran out on their date because of work. In her frustration, she blurts out, “Chandler, I’m going to die a virgin!” As if such a fate was actually worse than death.

Monica’s disappointment and embarrassment about being a 30-year-old virgin reflects how our society views those who are sexually abstinent in adulthood whether by choice or lack of opportunity.

I can’t speak for society, but I can speak for myself. I laughed at that scene, not because I thought it was funny, but because I identified with Monica. In fact, I exclaimed, “Me too!”

Now, sex in and of itself would be a horrible reason to get married. So let me be clear, that is not the only reason I would like to be married one day.

I know marriage is more than sex, and that marriage is beautiful and hard and all that. I know it doesn’t complete me. I know marriage will not make me happier. I get it.

But sometimes I fall prey to the belief that in our society, it would be easier to be married and Christian than single and Christian.

If I were a married Christian lady, nobody would think twice about me staying faithful to my husband. If I did sleep around, the world would actually look down on me.

Case in point: In that same “Friends” episode, Rachel has the opportunity to cheat on her husband with Joey Tribbiani, the Soap Opera star, but she doesn’t. She feels overwhelmed with guilt for even entertaining the idea because cheating on her husband would make her a horrible person.

However, as a single Christian lady, I still believe the only man I should sleep with is my husband. God just hasn’t revealed the identity of that lucky man yet. The world thinks I’m crazy for wanting to be faithful to a man who may very well not even exist.

I’ll be 29 this year, and I can count on one hand the amount of dates I’ve been on in my life. I’ve never been on a date with a man where I’ve enjoyed myself and wanted to continue the relationship. They’ve all been awkward, and then I had to do the whole “I don’t really like you that way. Let’s pretend like we’re going to stay friends, but I’m actually going to avoid you like the plague from here on out because I feel guilty for possibly hurting your feelings” thing.

Let me share with you a list of some situations I’d rather not go through again:

  • Being told by a guy I like he’s not that interested in me
  • Telling a guy I’m not that interested in him
  • Kidney stones

So after one painfully awkward date, I told God I would prefer not to be asked out at all than to be asked out by a man whom I’d have to reject.

God is faithful, and I have not been asked out since August 2012.

I’m telling you this because I need you to know I’m not some super holy person who has resisted so much temptation in an effort to stay faithful to my future husband; I’ve had no opportunity to be unfaithful. (At least not physically… emotionally unfaithful? Well that’s a story for another day.)

I’m just a girl who somedays feels like the biggest loser in the world and who sometimes believes no man will ever find her beautiful or love her. A girl who struggles with loneliness and feeling unwanted.

But those are my feelings; they are not my reality.

My reality is a Father who has beautifully protected me from the pain and destruction of sexual sin thus far in my life, but whose affection is not contingent upon my perfection. I am loved.

My reality is a Savior who loved me at my worst and who continues to recklessly pursue my heart. I am wanted.

My reality is a Great Comforter who guides and guards me as I navigate the trials and joys of this world. I am never alone.

Feelings often take awhile to catch up to God’s truth. They also forget easily. I have to remind my heart daily of the truth, so my feelings can be rooted in God’s Word and not fear.

My fear of being single forever and dying a virgin finds its root in the fear of being an outsider and misunderstood and ridiculed. Ironically enough, God’s Word promises exactly those things for those who follow Jesus.

We were never meant to “fit in” in this world; we were meant to change it. And in our weakness and struggles, God shines brightest.

“…I will boast all the more gladly of my weakness, so that the power of Christ might rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” 2 Corinthians 12:9-10, ESV

I’m not implying that the single life is all calamity and hardship. For the most part, I’ve greatly enjoyed my twenties and God has taken me on many adventures that would not have been possible if I was married. Marriage would have provided its own set of hardships.

But singleness does provide a unique opportunity to live counter culturally and proclaim that God’s way is better–even if in my weakness, I still feel a tinge of embarrassment when asked about my abstinence.

Will living a chaste life while single change the world? Maybe not.

But living in obedience to God in every area of my life–big and small–certainly will.

I may very well die a virgin, but please, God, don’t let me die without changing the world.

This originally appeared on Sarah Stinson’s blog, with my whole heart. Republished with permission. 

Brian Birdwell- 9/11 Pentagon Attack Survivor

The moment when you are 15-20 yards from an 80 ton jet coming through the building at 530 mph with 3,000 gallons of jet fuel, and you live to tell about it– not because the United States army made me the toughest guy in that building, but because the toughest man that ever walked this earth 2000 years ago and sits at the right side of the father had something else in mind.

The morning of September 11, I stepped out and went to the men’s restroom, and took care of my business. I was about 7 or 8 steps out when flight 77 crashed into the Pentagon at the intersection of the fourth quarter in the E ring at about a 45-degree angle.  I was thrown around, tossed around like a rag doll inside. I was set ablaze, breathing in black putrid smoke, inhaling aerosolized jet fuel, with the temperature of that air somewhere between 300-350 degrees.

You could see flesh hanging off my arms, my eyes are already beginning to swell closed, and I had no hair. The front of my shirt is still intact, my access badge and my nametag are melted, but still hanging covered in the black soot and scorched blood.  My arms are skinned alive, my pants are gone, I only have my leather belt and a portion of my pants that are in the immediate area of the belt. The flames were consuming me and I expected to pass away.

It’s really the definition of terrorism because it combines two things: One, receipt of a life threatening injury, I mean, set on fire the way I was; but combined with the blackness, the darkness and inability to navigate. Just moments before I was in a hallway that I was exceedingly familiar with, I knew exactly which way I was going. Then in that next moment on the impact of the aircraft I am being set on fire, sustaining a life threatening injury with no way to escape, and no way to know which way is to safety or to danger. That darkness and that blackness is what really captures your heart in the panic. When you meet those two circumstances, those moments seem to last an eternity.

I did what we in the military are never trained to do, which is surrender. I came to that realization that I was no longer struggling to survive, but I had stepped over that line from that desire and zest for living which we were created with to that acceptance of my death and recognizing that this is how the Lord was going to call me home. I screamed out in a loud voice, “Jesus, I am coming to see you.” Yet that didn’t come, and I lay there thinking all right Lord let’s get on with this thing. But the Lord had other purposes.

I used the wall that I had been blown up against to get up; and as I was staggering down the hallway four men, Bill McKennan, Roy Wallis, John Davies and Chuck Knoblauch come out of the B ring door area and Roy can see me, he sees me coming out of the smoke and staggering in the hallway. And in their haste to pick me up, Bill, Roy, Chuck and John each grab a limb and give that exertion to get up but I didn’t come with them.  It’s similar to that paraffin or hot wax you stick your hands in and after the wax cools it will just peel right off, and that’s what happened when Bill, Roy, Chuck and John each grabbed a limb and go to pick me up, they pulled chunks of flesh off of me and that’s my first insight into the pain thresholds that are ahead of me as a critical burn survivor.

I began screaming at them to leave me alone, and in my heart and mind am telling them to leave me there to die.  They don’t do that. Chuck actually rolls me over onto the left hand side and essentially the four of them shake hands with each other, grasping each other’s hands and wrists with my body weight resting on their arms acting as a litter to carry me through; I am yelling at them to put me down and leave me alone. I am yelling at Bill because I recognized Bill but Bill doesn’t recognize me. I am trembling violently and uncontrollably. In all my years of triage, the process is to take care of those that are most injured first, the most critical, and Dr. Baxter treats me first, and that tells me how serious injured I am.

We get to Georgetown University Hospital. On the other side of the Potomac River across the Key Bridge – there’s a lot of intensity, a lot of voice commands, a lot of directives; clearly a lot of gravity. Normally in an emergency room situation it’s airway, breathing, circulation; once those three things have been stabilized you’re evacuated to specialized care. But more importantly, when flight 77 makes impact with the Pentagon, as the third aircraft that crashed that day, inside the White House Situation Room Vice President Cheney turns to Secretary Moneta, Secretary of Transportation, and says, “Shut down all air space in the Unites States.”  that includes all medivac helicopters.  

Dr. Williams will not just do his best to stabilize me, but he began the escharotomy, the incisions, and the very ghastly things that have to be done for someone who has been so seriously and critically burned. The finality and permanency of life that I thought I was facing inside the Pentagon– I am now in an emergency room realizing that whatever I do here may be my final acts.  

 So, I told Dr. Williams I wanted to take my wedding ring off, because normally jewelry has to be cut off the burn survivor, whether it’s a ring, bracelet or necklace if that’s the part of the body burned because as swelling of the body occurs but the jewelry doesn’t swell, it becomes a tourniquet. Judith Rogers, one of the nurses in Georgetown that had answered the “all hands on deck” call to the Emergency Room, reaches for the ring as my body is cooled like that steak you take off the grill, and as Judith takes that tug and de-gloves the flesh, there’s exposed bone after she pulls it off, there is blood streaming out of the base of my hand and only the Lord can hear me scream in my mind. I am concentrating on the dignity and the finality of the death that I know I am dying; and saying goodbye to my wife and my son, and the symbolism of that wedding ring.

Mel will eventually arrive at Georgetown. Knowing that she was there was critical to me, more than anything else she was living up to the wedding vows that she had taken 14 years earlier. I am proud of her. I asked for the hospital chaplin, Chaplin Cerillo, to say that final prayer, and it’s just a prayer that says, “Okay Lord, You are in charge here. If you guide Dr William’s hand and the team here at the Georgetown Emergency Room and I survive here, we will salute that flag and move out with that mission; but if you’ve brought me here and your decision is to bring me into eternity silently and quietly under the care and compassion of my fellow Americans, we will salute that flag too.” It was with the strength, not of a soldier, but of my faith in Christ that I could look at Dr. Williams when that prayer was over with and very laboriously tell him lets get on with it,  resting in the comfort of the commander and chief of life.

General Peak very wisely asked Mel, “Has Matthew been up here to see his father?” and she said, “No, not yet.” He said, “You need to get Matthew up here because your husband is dying and your son needs to say goodbye before that happens.”

Matt would make that visit and in 20 plus years of military service, the hardest thing I have ever been asked to do was to say goodbye to my son. I remember watching Matt come in and he came into the right hand side, as I was wrapped like a mummy, with a tube in every orifice in my body. I can’t speak because of the tracheotomy and the feeding tubes and other things; but I can see him walk in and just mouth “I love you dad,” and I could sit there and mouth back to him how much I loved him; and because of that opportunity I had to say goodbye to my son, in that moment I was having my “it is finished moment”.

As hard as that was to physically and emotionally say goodbye to my son, I think about how difficult it must have been for God the Father to say goodbye to his Son for three days, his Son having known the perfection of heaven. In my death, I would be separated from my son, but joined to my heavenly father, whereas Christ’s death separated him from the perfection of heaven and the relationship he had with the Father.

Time will allow me to forgive. In fact, I can’t say that’s happened. I couldn’t look you in the eye and say, “Yeah I have forgiven and moved on,” but I can tell you that Mel and I accentuate the positive of not only having our lives to remain together and watch Matthew grow up, but also having grand kids somewhere in the future and continue to live in this great nation. We don’t think about the difficulty that five particular terrorists put us through, and concentrating on the negative of the terrorists’ actions; but we concentrate on the grace of the Lord’s actions.

You know, I got a purple heart for stepping out of a men’s restroom; and many of our men and women in uniform today earn their purple heart today by stepping out of this great nation into foreign danger zones. Christ earned his purple heart by stepping out of the perfection of heaven. And that’s exactly why the term “I am Second and He is first” is so appropriate.

My name is Brian Birdwell and I am Second.

 


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The day I lost my first soldier- I glanced at my watch; we were on time. Second platoon was heading out in sector and I felt like things were starting well…then Boom! A massive explosion erupted about a mile and change out. I watch a mushroom cloud rise from the fire. I ran inside the TOC and got on the radio.

How I found myself after I lost my mother to addiction- This past May, I lost my mom to alcoholism and addiction. In truth, I had lost her before that—long before that. But the shock of it was no less jarring.

 

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Chris Plekenpol: God must have taken a vacation because there’s no way He can be present in a situation like this. That was Chris’s rationale after being deployed to Iraq where no day, hour or minute was certain.

Chad Robichaux Film: As a police officer, Chad Robichaux had to make a life-or-death decision. As a Force Recon Marine serving as part of a Joint Special Operations Command Task Force, he witnessed unspeakable evil. Eight tours later those memories still haunted him.

Sujo John: When terrorists hijacked planes and rammed them into the World Trade Center towers on 9/11/2001, his life story was altered. As the walls of the towers came crashing down around him, his wife’s whereabouts unknown, and thousands dying around him, Sujo could only rely upon God’s plan for his life. A plan which became real amidst the death and debris of Ground Zero.

(Photo source: pexels.com)

Happy Memorial Day (weekend)!

I think what Memorial Day is best known for in our country is barbecues, a day off from the grind of the work week, and most importantly–the beginning of summer. However, Memorial Day is more somber than that. It started as a day to go visit tombstones and decorate them, remembering the soldiers buried there shortly after the civil war. In 1971, it became a national holiday to take time to remember those who gave their lives in the defense of freedom. To be fair, only about 7% of Americans have served in combat. Of that, fewer have had close friends or loved ones die in battle. So when this holiday comes around, more barbecues than cemeteries are decorated.

For those of you who need a story to remember I would like to share the story of the first soldier to die under my command in combat. I was a company commander in Iraq in 2004. We were stationed at Camp Habbaniyah–just West of Fallujah and just East of Ramadi–patrolling the road that connected those two violent cities. My tank company, A/2-72 Armor which had been attached to the Currahees (of Band of Brothers fame) had just replaced a tank company from the 1st Infantry Division. The road was in our hands, and I was nervous. I stepped outside of my TOC (Tactical Operation Center (HQ)) and watched as my tanks headed through heat waves into sector. I glanced at my watch; we were on time. Second platoon was heading out in sector and I felt like things were starting well…then Boom! A massive explosion erupted about a mile and change out. I watch a mushroom cloud rise from the fire. I ran inside the TOC and got on the radio.

“Sitrep!” I shouted.

Gunfire exploded in the distance. I waited an eternity for a reply. Then through the Radio, I heard, “Red 3’s been hit.”

“Any casualties?” I asked my RTO as I ran to my bunk, grabbed my rifle, vest, and helmet.

“Red 3 is KIA.”

I paused taking in what that meant. Killed In Action. SSG Vaillant was dead.

I ran down to my tank. I remember racing past SSG Vaillant’s tank as it came in. I remember wanting to grieve. I remember fear and anger and thoughts of God all flooding my mind. I joined the platoon in contact with the enemy, we fired across the Euphrates River at what we thought might be the trigger man that killed our brother. Then we crossed the river and got on foot going house to house. I spent seven hours with my interpreter trying to figure out who killed SSG Vaillant. The only thing we found that day was sadness and exhaustion.

A couple days later the leadership of the battalion and my company stood by to remember SSG Vaillant. We would have our own memorial day. Psalm 23 was read, Amazing Grace was played. I gave a eulogy about the grace of God. A twenty one gun salute jerked a tear from my eye. After the ceremony, my company huddled together and informally I asked the men to share a memory of their lost comrade. PVT Cavazos took a step forward. He shared a memory back in Korea about how SSG Vaillant and he were waiting for transportation together to get back from a firing range. It started to rain and they were getting wet and tired. They decided to sit back to back for comfort and to prevent the rain from invading as best as possible.

“That’s when SSG Vaillant started talking about Jesus.” Cavazos said. “I was getting tired, and I didn’t want to be rude, but I just nodded off. When I woke up what seemed to be an hour later, SSG Vaillant was still talking about Jesus.”

I want to be remembered like that. Etched in the mind of PVT Cavazos was the man whom SSG Vaillant was. A man of God who died in combat. A man of God whose hope was realized on the day when it seemed death and darkness got the upper hand.

SSG Vaillant’s memorial day pointed to a greater memorial day. The day that Jesus took our sins away. The day that he died on the cross in our place…but didn’t stay dead. And that was the hope of SSG Vaillant. And that is my hope. That is the hope I wait for patiently. I’m waiting for the day Jesus comes back and ends the war, the hurt, the pain, and the darkness. So it’s Memorial Day, a day to remember those fallen in combat. We remember them because of our loss. We remember Jesus, because of our hope.

 

Chris Plekenpol is the Lead Pastor of Wells Branch Community Church in Austin, TX. He is the author of Faith in the Fog of War I & II available on Amazon.com, here and here.

 


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In four minutes, I lose my first soldier- How Chris Plekenpol lost his first soldier and what he learned watching a terrorist burn to death.

How I found myself after I lost my mother to addiction- This past May, I lost my mom to alcoholism and addiction. In truth, I had lost her before that—long before that. But the shock of it was no less jarring.

13 Reasons Why Not: an open letter to my friend who committed suicide- Dear Daniel, I was the last person you ever called and I missed it. I’m still not sure how it happened. But you took your life before I could call you back.

Films

Chris Plekenpol: Watch Chris’s own story. God must have taken a vacation because there’s no way He can be present in a situation like this. That was Chris’s rationale after being deployed to Iraq where no day, hour or minute was certain.

Chad Robichaux Film: As a police officer, Chad Robichaux had to make a life-or-death decision. As a Force Recon Marine serving as part of a Joint Special Operations Command Task Force, he witnessed unspeakable evil. Eight tours later those memories still haunted him.

Brian Birdwell: One minute he was visiting the bathroom down the hall from his Pentagon office. The next minute he was burned over 60% of his body from an unknown explosion and resulting fires. That was the hell unleashed on Lt. Col. Brian Birdwell on 9/11/2001.

Sujo John: When terrorists hijacked planes and rammed them into the World Trade Center towers on 9/11/2001, his life story was altered. As the walls of the towers came crashing down around him, his wife’s whereabouts unknown, and thousands dying around him, Sujo could only rely upon God’s plan for his life. A plan which became real amidst the death and debris of Ground Zero.

Chris Plekenpol

Sometimes, I regret not saving that guy’s life. I mean, sometimes, I sit there and I’m like “you know that’s probably what a Christian would do.” And yet, I didn’t have the guts to do it.  You think you really know God. There is just those moments where I went from this place of being a fan of God, when I was 22, to just having this incredible faith. Where life went from black and white and turned to color, and it just became such a powerful thing. The army kind of sometimes runs a little contradictory to that. So, I just made this call and decision that the only thing in life I wanted to do was share the gospel [of Jesus].

So, I find myself getting out of the army and I’m in Korea and the Colonel gives me a call. And he’s like, “Chris, I want you to take command of this company.”  

So, there is that moment, “Sure, I’ll do one more year. What’s it going to hurt? It’s great leadership experience.”

Well, twelve days after I take command, my Colonel gives me another call, “Hey Chris, I need you to take an assessment of your men. I can’t tell you why, but you can probably figure it out.”  

Figure what out? Well, he told me I was going to war. I was going to Iraq.

A couple of months later I find myself in the sandbox of Iraq. I am now the commander of 100 men, 21 tanks, 7 Bradley’s, which are like mini tanks, a handful of Hummers. I’m standing outside my command post for that first day of combat. I was watching heat waves, I mean it’s hot. Heat waves are bouncing off – it’s 120 degrees outside. And there are my tanks, we’re all out in the sector. I mean, I’m doing this – this is real.


There are three letters that you never want to hear creep across the radio in combat. And that’s KIA.


I glance down at my watch to make sure everything is okay and boom, a massive explosion erupts about a quarter of a mile out. Smoke and fire billow into this mushroom cloud about 250 feet high. Immediately, I run into my command post and I’m trying to figure out from the situation report what exactly is going on.  There are three letters that you never want to hear creep across the radio in combat. And that’s KIA, killed in action.

The first four minutes, I lose my first soldier. Immediately, I run and go grab my M4 carbon rifle, my 9mm pistol. I put my flak vest on and sprint down to my tank. I charge that 50 caliber machine gun, my loader takes a 45 lb., 120mm round and puts it in the breach of the main gun. Then my gunner toggles the switches on the computer, while my driver pushes that 72 ton beast of a machine 42 miles an hour into the west gate.

I align three tanks to pound the north shore with everything we got. These terrorists start to withdraw to the north. I send two tanks across the river to follow. I follow in my tank. 100 men behind me start searching house, to house, to house, to house. And after 7 hours of searching, we find nothing.  


You got one job as a military leader, and that is to bring back everyone home alive. In the first four minutes of that, I fail.


I’m emotionally drained. I go home, back to the barracks and write a letter home to his wife, Kaila, and his 13 year old daughter, Sara, and explain how I let her father and husband die. You got one job as a military leader, and that is to bring back everyone home alive. In the first four minutes of that, I fail.

Spiritually, I’ll be honest with you, it kinda felt like God took a day off. When I came to faith in Christ at 22, we kind of had a deal. Here I am 6 years later and it feels like that whole thing about “I’ll never leave you or forsake you”, it’s kinda church jargon now. But where are you in the moment where my company is in battle, in combat, and I lose somebody and there is that sense that you’re on vacation.

I was constantly out of sector. My uniform is wet with sweat. I’m frustrated. I’m tired. I don’t even feel like I’m a Christian at all. I feel like I’m not praying. I’m not reading my Bible. I’m struggling here. Ultimately, I made a decision and went up to my second-in-command, my executive officer and I said, “Adam, check it out man, I am going down to the chapel in the morning.”


I figure that God is big enough for my worries.


I take a chair and set I set another chair [in front of me]. I just sit there and I talk to God. And I am like, ‘You know what, I’m frustrated. I’m tired. I don’t know if I can do this. I’m lonely. You know, there is no one I can express this fear with; everyone looking to me and  I’m carrying the weight of the world on my shoulders here.

So that frustration kind of mounts and I’m just letting Him have it. I figure that God is big enough for my worries.

This one time, we are out in sector and all of a sudden this terrorist takes a car bomb. It’s not like he has a uniform. He looks like everybody else. He takes this car bomb and he plows it right into one of my men’s tank. The car doesn’t explode. In fact, there was something wrong or he miscalibrated somehow. The detonator didn’t work and he rams the car straight into the tank. You know, this is a 2 ½ ton car running into a 72 ton tank. He loses. He’s knocked out.

The entire gas tank explodes. We have this massive inferno moving from the rear of the car to the front of the car, where these bombs are. So, this terrorist rolls out of the car. He wakes up because the heat must be just incredible. He’s starting to roll away from the blast. And there is a moment. I’m not going to lie to you. I could have saved his life. I saw it, but I didn’t do it. There’s that moment, I was not willing to die for my enemy right now. I’m not willing to do it. And so I watch him. The explosion erupted and we watched his body ripped apart. After the explosion, the dust settles. I jump off my tank and I sprint up to his body. I watch crimson fill the sand.

I’m that terrorist.  When it comes to how I’ve affected my life towards God, I’ve been an enemy of him and yet he didn’t sit back in his tank and just watch me die. He decided to come from heaven to earth and take that blast for me. Life is so short and so urgent. We just have this need to share the hope that we have with people who have no clue. I look at that terrorist and there is no way that I would ever go and save that guy’s life, because I am not that kind of hero. I am not willing to go and risk my life for an enemy. Yet Christ did that very thing for me. I owe him everything and that is why he is first in my life, because he was willing to do what I was never able to do.  

I am Chris Plekenpol and I Am Second.  

 

Chris Plekenpol: Watch Chris tell his story in his own words.

Chad Robichaux Film: As a police officer, Chad Robichaux had to make a life-or-death decision. As a Force Recon Marine serving as part of a Joint Special Operations Command Task Force, he witnessed unspeakable evil. Eight tours later those memories still haunted him.

Brian Birdwell: One minute he was visiting the bathroom down the hall from his Pentagon office. The next minute he was burned over 60% of his body from an unknown explosion and resulting fires. That was the hell unleashed on Lt. Col. Brian Birdwell on 9/11/2001.

Sujo John: When terrorists hijacked planes and rammed them into the World Trade Center towers on 9/11/2001, his life story was altered. As the walls of the towers came crashing down around him, his wife’s whereabouts unknown, and thousands dying around him, Sujo could only rely upon God’s plan for his life. A plan which became real amidst the death and debris of Ground Zero.

When Marriage Hurts- Matt Morrison

In a few weeks, Holly and I will celebrate our eighth wedding anniversary. It’s hard to believe we’ve been married this long. It’s also hard to believe that we have a five year old, that we’re pregnant with our second child, and that we’ve known each other for over a decade.

Over the past year, we’ve found ourselves transitioning into a new season of marriage. For the longest time, we’ve usually been the young couple in the room receiving advice from the more seasoned ones. And while our marriage is still young and we definitely still need that advice, we’ve recently hit an awkward stage where others are coming to us for the advice too.

It’s not like I haven’t learned a few lessons through the years. For instance, if you accidentally eat her leftover cheesecake while she’s pregnant, she’ll end you. And when she tells you she’s pregnant for the first time, a response that starts along the lines of “I did notice that…” is a terrible idea. Also, texting her friends behind her back to help them plan a surprise party in her honor doesn’t look much different to her than the early stages of an affair.

When Holly and I are asked for advice about a couple’s situation, our most common response is, “Been there, done that.” From the endless fighting over each other’s bathroom routines to the late night “come to Jesus” meetings, we’ve learned just how normal challenges in marriage can be.


I found myself reiterating the same point over and over again- “This is going to be harder than it looks.”


Recently, I was asked to officiate my first wedding. I taught the groom in a Bible class when he was in 4th grade. Through the years, he grew close to our entire family. He’s one of my “non-biological brothers” – guys who my parents mentored closely through the years. As I thought about my message, it forced me to consider implications of marriage on my faith for the first time in a while.

Walking with them through the pre-marital counseling and the hell that is engagement, I found myself reiterating the same point over and over again – “This is going to be harder than it looks.”

At the ceremony, I walked through an important passage in the Bible found in Ephesians chapter 5. It’s about the roles of the husband and wife. Paul challenges the couple to submit to one another. The husband is called to sacrificially and proactively love his wife as Christ loves the Church. The wife is called to submit to her husband, trusting his servant leadership. Together, they paint a living picture of the core message of Jesus. Their unending commitment and radical selflessness demonstrates the unconditional love Jesus shows the world.


We feel this pressure to make everything in marriage seem passionate, seamless, and endlessly joyous. But marriage isn’t two people running through fields together and vomiting sunshine.


When we consider this idea that marriage demonstrates the the core message of Jesus regarding love, we often think about the sweet times – the romance, the sex, the outward acts of love. We feel this pressure to make everything in marriage seem passionate, seamless, and endlessly joyous.

But marriage isn’t two people running through fields together and vomiting sunshine. In fact, I believe God is most honored when marriage is hardest.

Inevitably, every marriage experiences moments when there seems no way forward. Hearts are broken. Trust is shattered. One or the other is physically and emotionally exhausted. In some instances, the very covenant itself may even be violated.

In these moments, it only makes sense to give up, part ways, and call it quits. These are the times when the world says God wouldn’t want you to be unhappy. They’re the seasons when it’s easy to think you deserve more than what you’re getting. They are also the moments that separate a marriage from any other relationship or commitment.

When we choose not to give up, it makes much of Jesus. How else can you explain a wife who forgives her unfaithful husband and fights for their marriage? How else can you explain a broken husband who serves his wife in the face of emasculating verbal assaults? There’s no other relationship that could leave two people more vulnerable to heartbreak.

But when we choose to stand in and fight for one another, we demonstrate a supernatural love. It’s the kind of love that led Jesus to his cross and defeated death. This is why divorce is so heartbreaking to God. While unfortunately necessary in extreme cases, it’s a missed opportunity to demonstrate that love.


The tough times in marriage shouldn’t be a place of shame. In fact, they can often be a message of hope to the world.


Whether you’ve been married six months or six decades, you should never be ashamed of difficulties or challenges. You should never feel as if the relationship is failing. These late nights and tearful moments are when God’s love shines through most. They are the very reason you made such a powerful commitment in the presence of all your family and friends. You were telling the world then that you’d never give up. This is where you get to show them.

And when you do, you’ll show them more than just two people who love each other. You’ll show them a glimpse of the God who never gives up on them. The tough times in marriage shouldn’t be a place of shame. In fact, they can often be a message of hope to the world.

Couples, don’t be afraid to struggle.  Let the world see the love God has shown you by how you love each other through the tough times. Don’t be afraid to let your failures and weaknesses hang out. While uncomfortable, these are defining places in our lives that have the power to draw people to Jesus.

Matt Morrison has been married to Holly for eight years. the two live in McKinney, TX with their son, Caleb and soon-to-be-born son, Noah. He manages communications for e3 Partners, a Christian organziation based in the Dallas area. You can find his latest writings at mattmorrison.me.

 

(Photo source: Andrew Neel via unsplash.com)

(Photo source: Andrew Neel via unsplash.com)

Dear Daniel,

I was the last person you ever called and I missed it. I’m still not sure how it happened. But you took your life before I could call you back. I remember calling the next day. Your mom answered and said they couldn’t find you. I try not to hit myself every day since. I don’t know how heaven works, if you are able to hear me or not. But if you can this is what I would have told you, this is why NOT to end your life. And if you can’t hear me, then I hope someone who can will know though you seem alone, there is someone who cares.

  1. You are loved.

I used to cry myself to sleep. I’d beg God for one good friend. Picked on at school, bullied, lonely, hurt. I needed someone. You chose to be that someone. I don’t think I ever told you the dark spot I was in when we met. But you brought me out of it. Maybe you feel unworthy or undeserving of love in this moment. I’ve been there. I know what it’s like to wonder if anybody at all loves you. Let me be real clear on this: I love you.

  1. You are forgiven.

Maybe it’s guilt that’s brought you here. We all need forgiveness. You have no monopoly on that. If you need it from me, you can have it. I’ve never denied you that. If you need it from God, just ask. He’s forgiven far worse.

  1. You are not alone

Maybe you feel alone. Maybe you feel the battles you face make you alone in this world. You are wrong. You are neither alone, nor unloved. I am here. Others are here. Even if you don’t feel our love, we love.

  1. The world is NOT better without you

You never said why you chose this path. I wonder if perhaps you thought we’d be better without you. We are not. You had struggles and they hurt me. That is true. But your friendship has always and will always be worth it. I’d rather have you with all your mess than spend my life unable to say thank you for the kindness you gave me in my time of need. Let me be there for you as you were for me.

  1. It gets better

I know you are in pain. I won’t even pretend to understand your pain. I have had my own version of pain in life. I lost my daughter several years ago. She was born never taking a breath. We named her Hope, because in our worst pain all we had was hope. Hope that somehow it would get better. Hope that there is one who will fix the brokenness. Hope is what we have when all else is lost.

  1. We won’t get over it

Maybe you’re thinking that we’ll hurt for a while and then get over it, get over you. We won’t. For six months, my life went into a tailspin. Your family for years longer than that. I still carry your obituary with me, tucked into my Bible at a passage that reads “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, you are with me.” It’s been over a decade and the pain has softened but has yet to leave. I fear it never will.

  1. You have a purpose

Maybe you feel you’ve wasted your life. Failed your purpose. The purpose of life is simple. Love God and love the people around you. You can’t love us, if you don’t stay with us. You’ll do it imperfectly, as we all do, but anything worth doing is worth doing poorly. As long as you are here, trying to love those around you, you are doing the one and only thing you’re meant to do, even if you do it poorly. And trust me, you’ve loved us better than you think.

  1. There is help

There is help. Ask for it. Don’t stop calling. If I don’t answer, call someone else. There are people in your life who love you.

  1. There is hope

I don’t know why God allows things to happen the way he does. Trust me. I’ve told him on many occasions how terrible his plan seems to be sometimes. I don’t know why there is so much brokenness and pain in the world. But I do know this much about God. He’s going to fix it. Hope is this thing in the future, this faith in some better time and place. We see it in glimmers now. And it’s those glimmers that allow us to believe that its coming. Hold on to that hope.

  1. This is NOT what I want

Do not be confused here. I do not want this. I want you to live. I’d rather have the on and off, back and forth, pain in the a#% troubles that come with having a friend with your struggles, than have a life without you. I choose you with all your mess as you chose me with mine.

  1. Your struggle inspires

Every struggle gives birth to loneliness. In battle you face the enemy and so lose sight of those who fight beside you. Knowing you still fight inspires me. While I never realized the intensity of your fight, I’ve been inspired watching you fight it. Give me the honor of fighting it with you. Just reach out. Let someone know.

  1. I need you

In case you are confused that you’ve become a burden to those around you, be assured, that’s a lie. You chose me as a friend, when I needed one most. I had moved from out of state, was bullied by my peers, and desperately lonely. I always admired your kindness, talent, and brilliance and considered you my best, and at times, only friend. I know our life decisions began to diverge towards the end. But through it all we were friends. And I still need your friendship.

  1. You can’t undo this

I thought you’d be my best man and I yours. Instead, I was your pallbearer. Every other mistake can be undone, the consequences dealt with. But this is final. I can go with you anywhere, but not there. Stay with me, friend. Give me the opportunity to be with you in your darkest moments as you were in mine. Don’t go where I can’t follow.

 

Your best friend,

Doug Bender

 

(Photo source: Thomas Hafeneth)

(Photo source: Thomas Hafeneth)

Usually on Mother’s Day I scroll through my Facebook and Instagram reels, flooded with photo after photo of my friends smiling brightly back at me with their moms. The little captions catch my eye; “my ride or die” “‘my number one,” “my best friend”…with plenty of variations. Sometimes I find myself reading through the longer more meaningful captions and find myself wondering what I would say to my mom this year if she were here for Mother’s Day.

Sometimes I look through these photos and I truly don’t mind so much. They don’t phase me.  I can skim through them all without really feeling anything special. I “like” a few of my friends’ posts, then move on with my day, a little unsettled, a little down, but still okay overall. But in the past few years I’ve noticed that I can’t help but feel a tinge of jealousy eating at me when I realize how lucky my friends are. I can’t help but envy the mother daughter photos that flood my newsfeed.

I took out pictures of my mom today and felt an overwhelming sense of sadness mixed with anxiety. My heart sunk when I looked at pictures of my mom and me and realized that the most recent photo was six years old. Of course I knew this was the case, but letting it sink in and actually coming to terms with it was difficult. There are no pictures of us now. There are no photos of us at my college graduation, or of us at our family trip to the shore. There are no pictures of my mom meeting my new puppy. There are no new pictures of my parents, or of my mom and my sister. There are no new photos of us for me to share on Mother’s Day.

It’s hard because Mother’s Day throws this lack of photos in my face, with sales on flowers to target ads covered in Mother’s Day specials. It’s hard to escape from Mother’s Day. And I know I’m not alone in feeling like this. Maybe this year is hard for you too. Maybe you are also missing your mom. Or maybe you are missing the idea of Mother’s day; the idea of having someone to celebrate. You might be missing the idea of buying tulips from the grocery store or of picking up a sweet card for your mom. You might be missing the idea of having a family brunch or of sharing a warm cinnamon bun with your mom today.

I’m sorry if you are feeling like this too. I’m sorry if Mother’s Day isn’t what it used to be for you, or if it’s always been hard for you. It looks like we both missed out on the VIP passes to this members-only holiday. It’s hard when everyone around you gets to celebrate on the inside, and you are here, stuck on the sidelines, looking in.

Mother’s Day is hard; there’s no way around it. And it comes every single year. I don’t know what you do to get through Mother’s Day (or, let’s face it, Mother’s Day week). I know that I sometimes purposefully try not to let Mother’s Day bother me. I try to avoid it, by putting up an invisible shield, putting on a fake smile, and pretending the day doesn’t exist for me. But I’ve learned the hard way that this doesn’t really help – it just masks over the real feelings.

The thing is, you see, even if you try to force yourself to avoid thinking about Mother’s Day altogether, by simply numbing your feelings or blocking it all out, it still doesn’t make it easy. Ignoring Mother’s Day doesn’t just make the day, or your feelings, disappear. No matter how you get through it, coping in itself takes energy and it takes strength. It inevitably wears you out after a while, even if you think you’re doing just fine. So it’s important to remember that you don’t have to pretend that Mother’s Day is easy. You don’t have to act all “brave,” or act like you don’t have feelings.

While I’m most definitely not going to sit here and advise you to just try not to think about it, or to try to power through, I’m also not going to suggest that you “force” yourself to feel thankful on Mother’s Day. I’m not going to suggest that you force yourself to feel anything, for that matter. Some of you might feel at peace on Mother’s Day. Some of you might feel thankful for your mothers, whether they are present or absent. And for those of you that this applies to, I’m happy that you can feel grateful on this day. It’s a blessing, and it’s important for you to feel this way because it is authentic.

But if you’re not feeling so grateful? Don’t judge yourself. It is more than okay to not feel good. It’s also okay to not feel thankful. It’s more than okay to feel sad or even bitter. It’s also okay to not feel sad at all. You don’t need to judge yourself for what you are feeling. Forcing away a feeling, or trying to make yourself feel a certain way is only harder because it lacks authenticity. Faking it just breaks you. It only makes the harder.  You have to listen to yourself. That’s the main rule of making it through Mother’s day; you have to have your own back.

I don’t know if I truly feel grateful on Mother’s Day. But this isn’t because I’m not thankful for my mom. Of course I’m thankful for her. She was a hell of a mom. But feeling thankful for her and “celebrating” her is just harder for me to experience on this specific day when her absence is highlighted.

What I do feel is discomfort and sadness. I feel upset that I can’t celebrate her in the real, alive sort of way. It feels like the fact that I am “motherless” is being thrown in my face, so this takes over me feeling grateful. Of course I loved and love my mom. But Mother’s Day isn’t the day I can fully understand this.

So remember. If it is too hard for you to find peace today, I understand. You don’t have to try to make peace with Mother’s Day. You don’t have to do anything festive on Mother’s Day. What you do need to do is be judgment free and take it easy. It’s a hard day. And remember that whatever you feel or do not feel doesn’t make you any more or less of a person. I’m not going to tell you to have a good day or a bad day or any type of day. You can see what feels right this year. So from me to you, just have a day. And please, allow yourself to simply “be.”

By Colleen George

(Photo source: Alex Jones via unsplash.com)

(Photo source: Alex Jones via unsplash.com)

Mother’s Day started out so sweetly for me and my mom. I’ll never forget my excitement as a five-year-old in kindergarten, making my mom her surprise gift. I placed my hand on top of smooth, terracotta-colored dough while my teacher traced around my fingers with a pencil. Together, we shaped a replica of my hand so the fingers cupped up to hold an invisible something, forming a precious Mother’s Day memento.

Creating Mother’s Day gifts continued to bring me joy, but during my teen years, things changed. I seriously considered buying my mom a broomstick because of our fighting. She disliked the company I kept, but I craved independence and space from her. I began lying to my mom about where I was going to keep her off my back.

One evening, my friends and I left a restaurant before paying. It was exhilarating, at first, but the fun was short-lived. Our fellow classmates dining inside quickly identified us. Within days, we faced community service for our half-baked dine and ditch.

My mom grounded me right away. Being stuck at home provided the opportunity to apologize to her, since I knew she had been right all along. Instead, I gave her the silent treatment.

I made a few more mistakes in the years to follow before I realized I didn’t want to lie anymore. I wanted a dramatic change, so I began to follow Jesus. Despite my new beliefs, my mom struggled to trust me and old tensions returned. It was frustrating. I mean, God’s into reconciliation big time, right? Why were my mom and I still at odds?

By age 21, I was a newlywed living in a new land. My husband and I had relocated to Texas from California for graduate school. He took a pay cut at work to keep his class schedule, and we went overdraft three months in a row. I accepted the first job I could find to make ends meet. It was a customer service position in a building with no windows. For 40 hours a week, I was supposed to take phone calls from people angry about insurance claims not being paid.

During lunch break on my first day, I sat outside by myself in blistering summer heat, hiding tears on my cheeks from coworkers walking by. I was scared, and I wasn’t sure how my husband and I were going to make it so far from home.

Then my phone rang. It was my mom, and instead of pretending things were OK, I told her how I was really doing. My mom married as young as I did, so she knew a thing or two about my situation. She recounted the times my parents moved and risked job changes to make things work for their family.

“Look, I’m no Pollyanna,” she said, referencing the overly optimistic children’s book character. “Life is challenging sometimes and you have to work hard, but it gets better.”

Her no-nonsense words resonated, and I didn’t feel so alone. I started calling her weekly, craving her affirmation and survival stories.

Recently I gave birth to my first child, a sweet baby girl. Before my pregnancy, I used to complain about waking up before 6 a.m. These days I’m up at 4 a.m. to feed my daughter, and by the time she’s in bed at night, I’m so exhausted from chores and chasing her around all day I can hardly keep my eyes open. Becoming a mom is the best thing that has happened to me, but the lack of down time is numbing.

Knowing my mom underwent this same reorientation towards her child’s needs has bonded us on some deep level. We’ve had regular phone dates for ten years, but now I have a new reverence.

The two of us are still a ways off from reaching “Gilmore Girls” status — giggling and sharing deep secrets over two steaming cups of coffee. That’s just not who my mom and I are. But we do love each other, and when she calls to encourage me, I know she is proud of me and has my back.  

Last year I traveled home for Christmas. All of the twinkle lights and sugar cookies must have sparked some nostalgia, because I suddenly remembered my Mother’s Day gift from kindergarten. Out of curiosity, I made my way upstairs to my mom’s room to see if she still had the old craft. I smiled when I spotted it on her dresser, between a bottle of perfume and a picture frame. My little clay fingers reaching up; my palm open.

Whitney Thompson is a stay-at-home mom and freelance writer based in Dallas, Texas. She has written for several publications including Advocate magazine, Prison Fellowship’s Inside Journal, and Upper Room’s Teen Devozine.

Ciara with her daughter, Audri (Photo source: Ciara Sims)

Ciara with her daughter, Audri (Photo source: Ciara Sims)

The image is still vivid in my mind. We were in a Men’s Wearhouse parking lot, picking out his tux for our wedding. Our relationship was on-and-off for six years, but we had finally decided to get married. We bought a house and we even had an 8-month-old daughter. But in a parking lot, boxed in by solid white lines, it all fell apart.

We had a conversation that I couldn’t ignore.

In a state of shock, confusion, and panic, I moved two hours away and began my journey as a single mother. It’s a journey that initially tore me apart, but one that eventually found me not only content but joyful. I know that doesn’t make sense. But it’s what happened.

It wasn’t the easiest of starts. Every day, I would drop my daughter, Audri, off at child care around 7am, drive an hour to my office downtown, and work 8-5 almost always with a smile on my face. But it was a fake smile. I didn’t want to bring my personal problems into the work environment, but the truth was I missed Audri desperately. I spent my lunch break at a little cafe looking at pictures of her on my phone, secretly wishing I was mashing up her food and flying her “airplane spoon” into her tiny mouth. I worried for her safety and health every second. I felt guilty for working while a stranger taught my daughter her ABCs. But what could I do? I’m only one person. I can’t be the sole financial provider and the homemaker simultaneously.

After days, then months, then years of this, I began to feel as if the walls were closing in on me. I had the weight of the world on my shoulders, and I had no one to relate to. I attended group classes for single mothers at a nearby church, but the women were older and their children were in different life stages. My friends, although loving, would never be able to understand and I couldn’t expect them to. I was changing diapers while they were at the movies.

But one day, it all changed.

Up until that day, I had grown ashamed of my brokenness and thought it was my mess to handle alone. But in that moment, I grew tired of being tired. I became desperate for something more fulfilling. I became desperate for Jesus. I was a Christian, but I had never really allowed my faith in God to permeate the very center of my lifestyle. A lifestyle that had me facing a lot of challenges alone.

But that’s when the truth hit me: I would never have peace if I didn’t ask God to step in as my “husband.” That outlook changed everything.

I began waking up at 6am to read the Bible before work. I posted scripture all over my apartment as sweet little reminders of God’s infinite love. I ended each night in the floor of my bedroom on my knees in prayer, even when the prayers had no words. I knew God could hear my internal cry, and I began seeing the results of His love and tenderness.


Don’t get me wrong, life didn’t suddenly become easy, but my perspective changed forever.


Don’t get me wrong, life didn’t suddenly become easy, but my perspective changed forever. By placing Audri and myself second to God, I found an incredible sense of strength and independence I would never have known.

That’s what I want you to know, especially if you’re a single mom.

Know that you are understood and loved intimately by the creator of the universe. Take a deep breath in and smile because you brought that child to life when abortion was the convenient alternative. God makes no mistakes, and your little one was given to you for a purpose. Trust that God’s timing is perfect. Sometimes God gives us more than we can handle, so that we come crawling to Him for dependence. The good news is that He promises to “never leave us nor forsake us.”

You know what you should do now? Reward yourself. Have a popcorn/movie night past bedtime. Take a long drive or a hot bath. Be proud of yourself for a moment. I know I am. I taught Audri how to crawl, months later she took her first steps on my bedroom carpet. Now she’s potty-trained, and saying things like “You’re so precious to me mommy, I love you.” But don’t be too prideful to ask for help every now and then. I’ve since learned to acknowledge that I’m just one person and I’m not invincible. For instance, my parents will drive to pick her up one day a week from child care and stay while I take care of chores and personal things I often neglect.

More than anything, I encourage you to discover your worth and influence. Understand that no matter how important being a mother is, it’s not where you find your worth. It comes from something greater, from someone greater. And that’s what I’m going to teach Audri. Her value and identity is in Jesus and, nothing else the world offers is as freeing as that. I will fail her, but God won’t. And He’s the best parent she could ever have.

Ciara Sims is the founder of VeiledFree and veiledfree.com, a website dedicated to faith and fashion. She’s passionate about encouraging people to find freedom and connect with one another. Follower her on Instagram (@veiledfree) for faith and fashion inspiration.