Sunday, July 31, 2011

Yeah!

As usual, I couldn’t figure it out at first - what God was doing, I mean. I had planned a work schedule that would allow me to be off Good Friday through Easter. I did this very deliberately because I was determined that, this year, I would not, in my "busy-ness," charge past the significance of Easter. This year, I wanted to get it, to feel it deeply in my bones.

Oh, I know what Easter is all about, intellectually. But I really wanted to get beyond mere intellect this time. But, how do you actually get to the depth of something so huge and wonderful as the Resurrection. 


In truth, I was not quite sure. But, I felt I could come closer to doing that if I was not distracted by work. So, I set the schedule accordingly and ask the Lord to help me work my plan.

I was to begin a light construction job on Wednesday before Easter which should be no problem to finish by Thursday afternoon. But things didn’t go quite according to that plan. It rained on Thursday - hard. So, scratch Thursday.

The sweet couple that I was working for were very easy going, but they were hoping to use their new screened in patio (the job) when their family came for Easter. And, I really hate to disappoint people. So, the job spilled into Friday - Good Friday. But, what’s a boy to do.

I worked very hard on Friday to finish up. But there were delays and owner changes. So, the job got a little bigger, and impossible to complete on Friday. Thus, it now slipped over into Saturday.

Saturday was the "Middle Day." It was the one full day that the Savior lay in that dark tomb. As I worked, I pondered from time to time on Saturday, in the precious little time I had to think about it, what was the Savior going through on that Middle Day? 

What was the Heavenly Father feeling? Surely there was some vast wave of divine fury reverberating through the universe as the Son of God lay dead at the hands of God’s most ungrateful creature.

Or, perhaps not. Maybe I was just feeling the fury of my own frustration, as my job dragged on and the deeper experience of Easter slipped farther away. 


I prayed all day for "God speed." I wanted to do a good job and serve the interest of the couple for whom I was working. But, I also wanted desperately to just be finished. And the more I wanted it, the less it happened.

Finally, after eleven long, emotionally wrenching hours on Saturday, I threw in the towel on my "deeper experience" plan. The patio was enclosed and very usable by the family, but the final touch-up painting would have to be completed on Monday. 

At that point, I had neither the physical energy, nor the daylight to finish the job that evening. So, I picked up my tools and left, exhausted, and frustrated, and thinking "the Devil sure won this one."

As I drove home, a deep sense of sadness settled over me, partly because I really, really, really don’t like it when the Devil wins. But mostly, it was because I felt cheated out of something precious.

And then, there were the questions.  Why God didn’t do something? Why didn’t he help me? My cause seemed a good cause. 

But, whatever was the answer to all of that, for the present, I was just too bone tired to pursue it. So, that was my state of body and mind as I went to bed on Saturday night.

And still, on Easter Sunday morning, I felt disappointed about what I was feeling - as opposed to what I wanted to be feeling. Safe to say, the week had beaten me up pretty good, emotionally and physically. And it was obvious on Sunday morning that I had not so quickly shaken it off. 

So - I guess I really wasn’t, at this late hour in the Holy Week, expecting much of myself or for myself. And then I got to church...

The Pastor opened our service with a beautiful and moving song; and something began to happen. Then, our worship staff led us through the most beautiful Easter worship that I think I have ever been in. It was as though the music was fashioned in Heaven itself. Every song became so much more than just music.

And, it was not just the music. God came to my soul. And in those moments, it was like every thing became new again. 


There was no more exhausting Friday and Saturday. There was no more frustration. There was no failure or fear of it. There was no defeat. There was only this wonderful soaring release and the perfect refreshment of Easter morning.

It was not until later in the day on Sunday, as I pondered it all, that I finally understood what God had been up to. Finally, it dawned on me why He didn’t just make all of those work problems disappear and enable my perfect little plan take place.  


It was because He understood that to truly appreciate the joy, and newness, and the glorious release of the Resurrection there must be contrasted.  To really feel the wonder of Easter, it must be poignantly juxtaposed against the exhaustion of human struggle. 

So, in His wisdom, God simply answered my prayers by making my work problems a small, but very fresh, taste of the bitterness of the present human condition.  And the genius of it all is that he did so just before I tasted the sweetness of that Easter morning service.

I am very aware that, in the grand scheme of things, my work struggles across that Easter season were really very minuscule. And, that is especially true when I think about my persecuted brothers and sisters in Christ around the world. 


But, God allowed those difficulties to be just enough to provide the contrast I need to experience that Easter more deeply.  He did exactly what I had asked Him to do,  just not in the way that I expected.

And, low and behold, I was also elated to suddenly realize something else on Sunday afternoon. The Devil didn’t really win, after all! YEAH! 

Just like the original Holy Week, it only seemed so at first. In the final analysis, all was just God’s way of demonstrating, in a small way, something of the elation of the Resurrection that we will one day know in full measure.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Deep Rhythms

His name is Calvin.  He's my friend. A few days ago, I visited him once again. 

Calvin, who is 81, is an "ole" retired Navy guy. He enlisted in 1949 and retired in 1969. Each time I visit Calvin, we eventually get around to the point where he tells me the same story of an event that occurred near the middle of those years.

The story goes like this. Calvin was assigned along with several other men to the engine room of his ship. On one fateful day, when he was on duty, a fire broke out in that engine room. 


There were eight men in that compartment at the time. Immediately, four of the men were sent out for their own safety, not being necessary to fight the fire. Calvin was among those who were told to leave, but he refused to go. So, he stayed behind with his shipmates to fight the fire.

It was a horrendous fire that eventually engulfed the entire compartment. There were later indications that the temp reached almost 1000 degrees in some places. 

Eventually, as a last option to contain the fire and save the ship, the engine room was ordered sealed with the firefighters still inside. Calvin said he eventually just slipped into unconsciousness, relating that the last thing he remembered was the thick black smoke descending down on him.

When the fire was finally out, only Calvin and one other shipmate were left alive in the engine compartment. His shipmate died of his burns 4 days later.  So, ultimately Calvin came to be the only survivor.

Every time Calvin tells the story, tears come to his eyes. I know that the majority of those tears are for the perfect sacrifice that his shipmates made that day. Even across all of these years, that sacrifice speaks deeply to Calvin, as it does to us all. 

And, how could we not cry for the loss of those heroic lives. But, I think some of Calvin’s tears stem from something else.

Each time I watch Calvin telling the story, it is so very easy to sense those fallen comrades calling to him. But, they call to him, not just to appreciate their sacrifice, but they also call to him to discover his own best self, to rise to their level of nobility. 

And, Calvin's poignant tears are the way he acknowledges that high challenge.  They are his humble affirmation that he sees the nobility of what they did and feels obligated by their example.

But, what is it, precisely, which draws these very deep emotions from most all of us when we observe or remember such heroism? I think it is the sheer beauty of selflessness.  

So, when we see a defender of the defenseless, we're moved by that selfless intervention.  When we observe someone step between an irate boss and a brow beaten employee their action calls to our highest ideals.  When we see our soldiers, law enforcement, or firefighters step up to form the outer ring of our defense - some part of us aspires to know that selflessness within ourselves. 

Thus, in the final analysis, the tears we cry over our heroes are not just tears of appreciation. They are also tears of aspiration.

And they are also evidence.  They confirm that, still lingering deeply in the psyche of humanity, there remains that noble motive instilled so long ago by our Creator when He said, "Be ye holy, for I am holy

Thus, when our heroes inspire us, those Godly rhythms come irresistibly to the surface of our consciousness. And, for a time, they insist that we search for some answering nobility within ourselves.

Fishing Heaven

When I was a little boy (about 10) I was livin' large. My grandparents had a mom and pop type grocery store just at the edge of the neighborhood in which I lived. It was about a 15 minute trip on my bicycle (if you pedaled hard, and I always did) to be pulling up to the front of that wonderful old building. 

That store was a place of pure joy for me. It was full of candy, and cokes, and ice cream, and two of the people I loved most in the world. Needless to say, I spent a lot of time there.

And one of the best things about that store was that it stood right at the edge of "Fishing Utopia." Just 300 yards behind the store, in a wooded area, was a beautiful little 2 acre lake that held endless possibilities for an 11 year old boy. 

You could, on that lake, on any given day, be a pirate, build a log "boat" (or at least make a good start and dream the rest), find turtles, check on duck eggs, catch 100 sun perch, or do endless other adventurous things. It was truly a place of wonder, of a thousand wonders.

But, it was very difficult to get to. Oh, it was easy enough geographically. If I ran full speed from the store (and I always did) I could be there in mere seconds. That part was easy. The hard part was convincing my grandmother that I could be trusted to go there.

The process usually involved begging, and more begging, and then begging some more. And eventually, on most days I would finally gain her permission.

But even then, it was only after she read me an interminable list of dangerous things that I absolutely could not do. And only after I listened to an equally long list of things she would do to me, if I did. 

Obviously, she had me "over a barrel." So, I would agree to all of her terms; and finally, I would be off. You can't imagine the joy of that short journey.

There was one feature of the lake that completely fascinated me. The lake had an island! There was a long finger of land that jutted out into the lake and at the end of that finger (I'd say about 10 feet or so beyond its end) there it was - THE ISLAND - the absolute center of the fishing universe. 

The island was also a long finger of land.  But, alas, there was this vast stretch of water (about 10 feet you remember) between me and that "Fishing Heaven."

Week after week, that stretch of water kept me from my dream. Every fisherman knew that you had to fish from the island to catch the really good fish. And so I eyed that island jealously, until one day I knew - I had to try...

I walked out to the end of that long peninsula that was to be my runway.  I turned the big end of my fishing pole around and launched it like a spear toward the island. It landed well safe on the other side.

Now once a guy's fishing pole is on the other side, what else can he do. He is pretty much committed at that point. Then, for good measure, I flung my cricket holder over, as well.

Then, I walked back up the trail in the center of the peninsula to a point that I thought would allow me to achieve "terminal velocity." I paused for a moment to focus. I gritted my teeth together (always good for an extra few inches of distance). I picked out my landing spot. And I took off!

I did my best to run a hole in the wind.  And, when I got to the end of the peninsula I jumped. I jumped as hard as I ever had, as hard as I possibly could. 

I don't think my legs ever stopped running for the entire flight. And what a flight it was. It was high and thrilling; and the last part of it seemed to be in slow motion.

"Did I make it?" you ask. You better believe I did. I landed square on the dry shores of a dream come true. The island was mine!!! And now, the fish were bigger, the world was smaller, and I was about 10 feet tall. I will never forget the day when I decided to make that leap.

I'm sure you understand why I never saw the need to burden my grandmother with the tedious details of that day. Discretion just seemed the better course. But boy, it was a red letter day for sure. I tested myself against the unknown - and I won.

I still occasionally recount that day in my mind with some joy.  And once, when I was doing so, the Holy Spirit whispered this idea in connection with that memory. "You make the leap and let Me take care of the landing." And so, as an additional benefit of that fond memory, I was challenged to explore the idea of godly risk.

Faith is the enabling currency of the spiritual life. But certainly, faith expresses itself very validly in different ways. And I would be the first to say that faith is not always blind. Nor is it always risky. 

But - sometimes faith is, indeed, risky. And, in fact, those are the times, the risky times, that really define us spiritually.

And so, the truly defining questions becomes: "What will we risk?" What will we risk to Christ? What will we risk for Christ? What will we risk in Christ?

The prevalent "easy believism" of our times would teach us to live comfortably within our own self-defined limitations. It would teach us to minimize the risk of God's will by mostly ignoring the seductive song of His inner challenges to us. But, in reality, that approach won't even get you to "Fishing Heaven," much less to the real one.

As It Was Meant To Be

One morning recently, I was repairing a 1930’s model home for an older lady in town. This day, I had to do some electrical rewiring in the attic. 

I was dreading the work because it was going to be hot. And, that old insulation, and the dust that went with it, had been there for many decades. 

As I started up the ladder into the attic, I prayed silently, "Lord, would you help me with this." I had in my mind that He would simply help me to work efficiently and get out of that attic as quickly as possible. But, it eventually became apparent that He had a different level of help in mind.

Anyway, I headed up the ladder and through a small hole in the ceiling into the mostly dark attic. As I started carefully across the beams, I aimed for the dim light that was struggling to get through a vent in a gable of the attic. It was really just barely enough to guide me to the spot where I was to work in front of that vent. So, I had brought a small flash light along for that reason.

As I arrived at the spot where the wiring job was located, I realized that I needed one more hand. So, I stuck the flashlight in my mouth and started to do the work with my "other" two hands. 

Somewhere about the middle of the process, however, my "mouth hand" dropped the flash (I was probably trying to talk to myself). The flashlight then headed straight down, at terminal velocity, into that old insulation and the dust that coated it. 

I winced in anticipation of the cloud that was about to envelope my face. I know, I should have had a dust mask. But they don’t do a lot of good if you have a beard. And yep - I have a beard. And besides, how could you possibly hold a flashlight in your 3rd hand if you're wearing a dust mask.

In any case, just as I thought it would, the flashlight hit the insulation and up toward me came this toxic cloud. I closed my eyes and prepared to hold my breath to stave off this "dust plague" that was heading right for me. 

But just at that instant, a quick breeze came barreling through the small vent. As a result, the dust cloud was pushed away from me; and it merely dissipated over a much wider area. It was as if the breath of God had simply blown it away.

As I thought about what had happened, tears filled my eyes. I realized that God had, indeed, heard my prayer on the ladder, had accompanied me into that attic, and had done exactly what I asked Him to do - He helped me. It was all but emotionally overwhelming to think that the Ruler of the universe would be willing to "breath" on my circumstance in such a simple, and intimate, and protective way.

I know that there are those who would quickly say, "Oh, that was coincidence," to whom I would confidently answer, "No - that was God." He was just, one more time, faithfully fulfilling the promise that Christ brings to humanity.

It's the promise that is implicit to the resurrection. It is the promise of the restoration of a daily intimacy with God that was lost in Adam and Eve. It is the promise of a deep and intimate friendship with God that not only impacts our destiny, but our days. It is the promise of once again being able to truly know and deeply experience our Creator in our everyday reality.

There is a word used in the New Testament that perfectly describes this wonderful access that Christ brings. In the Greek, it is "ginosco." It means "a deep and intimate knowing."  And, that is exactly the joy and privilege that has been restored to humanity through Christ.

Certainly, it has become widely acceptable among modern believers to compartmentalize God . The idea is to maintain some distance so that God becomes merely one part of the larger composite that is our daily life. 
But, the reality which Christ empowers is a God presence which becomes the organizing energy throughout the whole of our life. 

What an inestimable blessing to be in perfect and constant league with Almighty God, to have a beautifully integrated existence with Him that plays out as a fulfilling daily impact. Who could conceive of anything more wonderful, more securing.

And, indeed, it is a wonderful thing to have a God who goes to work with you, and who chooses to be a helpful part of all that you do there. It is wonderful to have a God who is willing to take you through life’s storms in His graceful arms. It is really pretty amazing to have a God who brings healing to your "brokenness" in a thousand ways through His loving daily input.

Most any right thinking person would have to declare such a thing, "absolutely spectacular!" How could we not on those days when we see His brightness disperse the dark clouds of our emotions and even our reality. 

And certainly, it is so meaningful to share private moments of perfect peace with Him as His restoring daily gift to us. Such are the ways of "ginosco." Such are the blessings of walking in harmony with a God who numbers the very hairs of our head.

It is true that some in this wayward world arrogantly insist on seeing God as an intruder to their right of self determination. How sad. 

And how tragically deluded and misinformed they are. In fact, He is the perfect expression of perfect love. And, being so, He always brings the willing to their highest good by the best method of all: shared days of deeply meaningful companionship.
That divine companionship was the promise that I was given, and that all are given, in Christ. And every single day of my life, I experience the verity of that promise in His presence. 

I hear his voice of direction, and comfort, and correction, and encouragement. I sense His constant care. And sometimes I even feel his loving breath as it blows the "harmful dust" out of my life.

Oh no, it's not a coincidence - it’s God. And He is no intruder to my life. He is my God and my Friend. And such is redemption - as it was always meant to be.

Sweet Bindings

It was the summer of 1993. I came home from work to our house in rural North Texas to find my two young sons (Daniel 12 and Andy 8) sitting on the side of a large foxhole. You guessed it, they were playing army. 

I walked down the slight grade of our large yard to their location under a beautiful old oak tree near the edge of our property. I sat down with my guys on the side of that foxhole and we began to "bat the breeze" as boys will do.

Oh, the subjects we undertook that afternoon. We covered the gambit of schemes, and dreams, and plans. How big and exciting the world is to young boys. Every possibility is new and deserves to be explored. 

So, sitting in a neat row on the side of that foxhole with our legs dangling down, the three of us were exploring some of those great possibilities. And, as conversation tends to do when it is coming out of boys (of any age), the longer we talked, the "grander" the possibilities became.  Until, the grandest of all ideas (at least for that afternoon) occurred to us. I said, "You know, if this hole was a little bigger, we could make a swimming pool out of it."

The next afternoon, when I arrived home from work, the dirt was flying. The hole was now several times yesterday’s size and depth. Eventually, over the course of a few days, it was sculpted into a near perfect rectangle that was 22 feet long, 12 feet wide, and Deborah deep.

Deborah is the boy’s younger sister (6 years old at the time). We decided that for safety’s sake we would keep the depth of the pool at shoulder height to her. The corners of the pool were carefully shaped to about a one foot radius. And steps were carved very precisely from the dirt so that they became an integral part of the shape, just as you might see in a formal concrete pool.

My part in all of this was just to serve as the steering committee. The boys did most all of the actual digging and shaping work. And their shovels were fueled by pure enthusiasm. Sometimes I could hear them from our porch discussing and deciding on the details of "pool building." Sometimes they would disagree and argue; but always, in their voice, there was the excitement of the what they were doing.

Oh, and I had one other responsibility to discharge in this process. On pain of - well, I’m not quite sure of what, but, I was supposed to devise and build a pump and filter system adequate to keep the pool clean. Fortunately, neither of the boys had ever heard of a "Performance Bond." If they had, I’m sure I would have had to secure one to guarantee that I would finish the pump system on time and on budget. At any rate, even without the bond, I did eventually bring in the project as prescribed. 

We lined our "dirt sculpted pool" with a blue plastic liner made of two layers. The first was a regular blue polyester tarp (for the proper color, you know) and the second layer was clear builder’s plastic (to actually contain the water).

It was a truly grand summer afternoon when we began to fill that pool with the garden hose. Every inch of rise in the water was duly noted. We remained a long time after dark with flash lights watching that liquid joy rise in our new pool and talking excitedly about the possibilities that lay ahead.

The filling went through the night and into the next day until the water was within about four inches of the rim. We estimated about 6500 gallons of pure pleasure to be in that pool. And finally it was jump-in-the-pool time. 

In we all went at the same time, making as big a splash as we possibly could. We estimated that first "splash-in" to have cost us at least, at least, 6200 gallons of water. But luckily, most of it fell handily back into the pool.

We reveled in our accomplishment all afternoon. We played every pool game we could think of; and then we started making them up. We swam on the surface and under water. We did flips and flops and laughed and splashed until we absolutely wore ourselves out in the joy of it all. We had a real pool! What could be better than that in hot North Texas in the summer?

Eventually, near the end of the day, it dawned on us that we had not check out the pump/filter system, and that it was now time to do so. So, we all got out of the pool, dripping wet, and gathered around our beautiful new metallic blue pump.  

The pump was attached by PVC piping to the five gallon bucket that held the filtering material, which was connected to more piping that would return the filtered water to the pool. If ever there was anything that qualified as a genuine, bonafide, low tech "contraption," this plastic and cast iron labyrinth was it.

Nevertheless, it was like something magic sitting there on that platform made of plywood at the end of the pool. So, for a short minute, we all just stood there dripping and staring, in due reverence to the occasion.  And, there was one unspoken, but very much shared, question in all of our minds: "Is this thing really going work?" 

To answer that question, I dipped water from the pool to prime the pump. I poured the water into the intake piping, and replaced the large pipe plug that had been removed for that purpose. 

When I was ready to switch the pump on, I remember telling the kids, "Stand back." I suppose they all thought there was the real possibility of an explosion because, without hesitation, they all did so - immediately.

I flipped the switch; and, we all held our breath. Instantly the pump started to make a low whine. At first, there was nothing. But within a few seconds, a tiny stream began to flow. And then, a bigger stream. And then a bigger and bigger stream, until the return pipe reached its full capacity. At that point, it was party time all over again.

We watched until dark, with rapt fascination, that wonderful little metallic blue pump, doing its beautiful, amazing, magical work of keeping our new pool clean. We got a big spoon to catch the return water stream and the impact of the water turned it into a beautiful aquatic display.  

And, by the time the day ended, a miracle of transformation had actually taken place regarding our "contraption."  Indeed, it had come to look more like an elegant fountain than the gaudy knot of pipes and buckets that we originally understood it to be. Once we saw it actually working, its hideousness just melted away.

We swam in that pool for three seasons. Each year we would peel out the liner, dig the pool a little deeper (Deborah was growing).  We would then refill it with that beautiful, clear, cool water that would set us free of the Texas heat and bind us together in innocent fun. 

Eventually we coped the edge of the pool with stones.  And, we installed overhead lighting in the area as well as some benches and landscape flourishes.

The intrinsic value of that swimming pool was just south of $100 dollars. But, the closeness that it brought to our family - the shared achievement, the bindings of laughter, and love, and dear shared memories of the good times were and are truly priceless. Thank God for foxholes, and little boys and girls, and the homemade swimming pools of life.

When Christmas Sings

It is obvious that Christmas is much more dramatic for kids than for adults, generally speaking. The reason is also obvious. It is because they feel Christmas more easily. 

And, the reason they can feel Christmas so easily? It is because they are innocent. Their lives are not so "barnacled" with the cynicism that attaches through long years of experience. They have not yet had time to learn the involuntary skills of a pessimistic adulthood. And so Christmas remains a deeply exciting time for them.

When I think of that kind of Christmas, I am transported back to my ninth year. My dad had a gas station that demanded that he be there from sun up to way past sun down - and still it would not pay him even a descent living. I remember that cold winter as though it were yesterday.

Dad was normally happy-go-lucky. He was given to laughter, and fun, and joking around. He was a perfect dad for a nine year old, because, in a heart beat, he could become nine years old again, himself. 


And then, he would play with you and do silly stuff with you as if you were the only person on the planet. And he might even do so in the middle of his business day, if he thought you needed to be squirted with a handy water hose or ride up and down on the car lift (the "grease rack" to some of you old service station guys).

But this bitter winter was different. We still laughed, but not nearly as much. It was truly a hard time, especially for Mom and Dad. Money was so very short. There was a heavy and relentless concern, even about the basics. 

Every week the questions loomed. "Will there be enough to pay the gas bill?" Or, "Do we have enough groceries to put off buying more for a couple of days?" 

I still hurt for them when I think about the emotional load that they carried that winter. And then to turn around and see two bright eyed children expectantly looking forward to Christmas. I know now, that we only unwittingly added to their load.

But in our family, we were always all in it together. Mom and Dad didn't hide the truth from us. They just gently explained the realities of our life, and asked us to be accepting of those realities with them. 

That approach bound us willingly to their struggle and to them. Even at such a young age, my sister (Judy) and I could sense their trouble. And that really came to matter much more than what wasn't going to be under the Christmas tree.

After Dad explained and hugged and promised that things would get better soon, it seems like we all simply settled into going forward. Mom and Dad had their hands full just answering those demanding survival questions.  And, Judy and I just sort of accepted what was. But then something happened...

A few days before Christmas, my Aunt Ruth and Uncle Junior, whom we went to church with, invited us over to their house. The main activity that I remember from that day was Mom and Aunt Ruth laughing and cooking together for Christmas. 

I don't really remember where Dad and Uncle Junior were. But, everything seem to lighten and get better from that day. And on Christmas morning, we got up to a Christmas tree, literally surrounded by presents. I couldn't believe it.

That year, I had my heart set on a Range Rider BB gun. I know, it sounds kinda Hollywood-ish.  But, if I'm lyin,' I'm dyin', it really was my Christmas hope.  

However, I had pretty much abandoned that hope after Dad explained how difficult things were. But, now I thought, "Surely my BB gun is under that tree among all those presents!"

As Dad handed out the presents, excitement was flowing like a river. We were trying on this and showing off that, until all the presents were opened. 

But, as great as everything was, there was no BB gun. I was so taken with everything else, though, it didn't really seem all that important at the time.

My Dad was on one knee beside the Christmas tree just taking in all of the commotion when he turned and looked directly at me. With mock surprise, he said, "Wait a minute. I think there is one more back here." He then reached way around the tree where I couldn't see and pulled out, you guessed it, the best Range Rider BB gun in the whole world - mine.

After the back flips and somersaults (me, not Dad), he called Judy and me in close and gave us one more explanation. Basically, he said, "Kids, all of this is from Aunt Ruth and Uncle Junior. Were it not for them, none of this would be here this morning. We need to thank them later."

After his explanation and the reading of the Christmas story from the Bible, Dad and I spent two hours on a cold, windy safari shooting everything with that BB gun that wouldn't shoot back. Then, we cleaned up and went to my aunt and uncle's house for lunch, and the rest of what I remember to be the best Christmas day of my young life.

In the innocence of my ninth year, Christmas gave me many things. It gave me tears of sadness. It gave me tears of joy. It gave me tears of gratitude. 

It gave me laughter. It gave me love - flowing in both directions. And I experienced it all very deeply as a very wonderful Christmas.

When I think about Christmas now, I know that is the way the season of Christmas is suppose to be. It is supposed to be a time of vivid personal encounter - an encounter with ourselves, an encounter with the people around us, and an encounter with God of Christmas.   And, all of it made vibrant by the renewed innocence that Christ brings to us. 

And isn't that the ultimate gift of Christmas?  It offers the gift of a renewed innocence which brushes away the "barnacles" of life's pessimism, and restores, not only our hope, but our highest ideals.

The Legacy Of The Honoring Bell

June, 2010

Yesterday, I stood as one more nameless person in a crowd of several hundred people. And, I have never been more proud to do so. We were all there to honor another of our fallen children, Sgt. Joshua Tomlinson, 24, of Minden, Louisiana, who died last week in Afghanistan.

Beside me in that crowd, was my own son, Andy, who, himself, lost the use of his legs as a result of a sniper's random shot in Afghanistan a little under two years ago. My older son, Daniel, and my wife, Donna, also stood in hushed reverence as Josh Tomlinson's body arrived at the front entrance of the First Baptist Church of Minden.

A deep, and honoring, and haunting tone rang steadily over the crowd from a great, soft spoken bell, positioned somewhere beyond my view. The reverent and repeating toll of that bell became the "cadence of oneness" for this motley honor guard of citizens. And between the counts of that noble bell, even in this great gathering, a pin could be heard to drop. Such was the level of respect present for this young man on this notable and sorrowful day.

Donna and I drove from Texarkana, Arkansas to Minden to honor Josh and his family. But we were also partially motivated by a desire to be part of the human wall that would protect this family from an unspeakably horrible hate group out of Topeka, Kansas. This group, headed by Fred Phelps, routinely stages protests at the funerals of our fallen heroes. They actually celebrate the death of our soldiers right in front of their families if they can.

As Donna and I drove through the downtown business district of Minden, on our way to the church, the whole area was noticeably subdued. On what should have been a bustling Saturday afternoon, the downtown looked more like a ghost town. The Minden "family" was mostly already at the church, grieving together and preparing to honor Josh.

I don't know the people of Minden; but I know them. They are ordinary people who understand the cost of freedom and hold dearly to their patriotic roots. But, like the rest of us, they hope those values will never actually have to be put into play.

Like the rest of us, these folks get up every morning simply hoping to discover a day that is peaceful, and safe, and affords them the simple joys of life. They, like us, want to raise and enjoy their children. They want to greet their neighbors with love and respect. 


They want to drink coffee together in the morning at the local cafe, and poke fun at each other in the heat of a summer afternoon encounter. They want to go to church together. And they want to celebrate the milestones of life together. 

They just want to live quietly and peacefully in a descent town, in a descent state, in a descent nation, on a descent planet. But, even that simple aspiration is often challenged by the dark extremes of our world.

Actually, from its beginning, this world has been victimized by dark extremism. It happens every so often that the darkness decides to rear its ugly head among us, and insist that we bow to its demands. 

These waves of ugly humanity are easy to recognize on the world stage. They always, ultimately, become an unreasonable and aggressive point of view that attempts to force itself on the rest of us.

We are not talking here about a simple exchange of ideas. We are not talking about ordinary intellectual passion or persuasion. And we are certainly not talking about the good extremes that are easily recognized by the sane mind as valuable: peaceful religion - devoutly practiced, for example.

We are talking here about the forceful expressions of warped minds - minds like that of Fred Phelps. But he is a very small fish in a very large pond. 

When I start to put together a catalog of dark extremists, my own mind goes first to Joseph Stalin and Adolph Hitler, also dark killers of our children. Always, it is the same it seems; our children are the price that these evil ideologues ultimately exact of us.

And that is certainly still true in this 21st century with the dark extremism of present day Islamic terrorists who cost Josh his life. Their demand? That Islamic law be instituted in every country around the world, without exception, as their condition for peace. Even the word "extreme," doesn't nearly do this insanity justice.

So, one more time, we must send our children off to war to defend us against the lunacy of the darkness. One more time, those of us who understand the difference between good and evil, must cry the tears, and give up our precious children, and stand in long solemn lines with broken hearts that are signified by the flags we hold and the sound of the honoring bell. 

One more time, we must pay the required price to stop the darkness from overwhelming us. But what choice do we have. The darkness never stops, and neither can we.

And all the while, the darkness and the dupes of the darkness would tell us that no cause is worth it. They would have us to believe that the love of light, and goodness, and the truths of our Creator are all foolishness and long outdated values, and not worth fighting for. They would offer us, instead, the "glory of the darkness."

Marx and Stalin offered us Communism. Hitler offered us fascism and Aryan domination. Fred Phelps offers us blind hate and heretical bigotry. Today's Muslim extremists offer us burkas for our women, and the twisted thoughts of Mohammed as the basis for our law and government.

It goes without saying, though we certainly should say it often, that we owe a great debt of gratitude to the American military and to American law enforcement. And we are deeply indebeted to the many who have given their full measure of devotion to keep such darkness at bay.  And we owe their families.

All of these have empowered and kept very current our answer to these ever recurring extremes of the Darkness. Because of their unfailing strength and their heroic will to act, that resolute answer to the Darkness is now, what it has always been throughout American history: "Not today!"

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The Battle After The Battle: Andy's Wounding

As told in an article in our local paper in 2008

America, there is no place on earth like this place. Every day of our existence we show the world how life can be lived with confidence and joy and the excitement of the journey. For the last six weeks we have been doing that very thing.

In those six weeks young people have been living out the summer of their dreams, buying their first new car, going to summer camps, taking trips abroad, watching and even participating in the Olympics. Others have just been "hangin" with friends in a lazy summer sort of way.

For the last six weeks we have been gearing up for the great political spectacle that is the election of an American president. All of the candidates have been heroically engaged in a whistle stop dialog with the American people. Ah, it stirs our passions and awakens our political hopes again.

American business, for the last six weeks, has been plotting its new strategies, not just to survive, but to capture or recapture the market. They have solved their production problems. They have gotten the new product out the door. They have competed in the world economy in the most fierce way.

In the last six weeks American families have vacationed and enjoyed shopping trips to the mall. They have planned and experienced fairy tale weddings, gone on cruises, and experienced Disney World together. 

 This summer, with high school behind, proud parents have prepared to finally send their children to the education that they have save for, for decades. American families have celebrated the arrival of babies, and birthdays, and happy anniversaries of all sorts.

In America, over the last six weeks we have lived free, and we have shown the world how to do it. We have enjoyed our fine restaurants and our fast restaurants. We have worshipped and traveled and expressed ourselves freely without fear or interference. What a place this America.

For the Burnett family, however, life in America has changed dramatically in the last six weeks. On Thursday morning, July 17, approximately six weeks ago, I was sitting in my home in Texarkana preparing for the work day when the phone rang. It was my oldest son, Daniel. He said, " Dad, Andy called from Afghanistan, and he has been wounded." My eyes slammed shut involuntarily as the desperate question blurted instantly from my mouth, "Is he OK?"

Daniel explained that he had been hit in the neck by a sniper. Dan said that Andy, our youngest son, was playing it down, and that he wanted us to know that he could move his arms and legs, and that a chopper was on the way.

Andy is himself, a medic with the 173rd Airborne Brigade in Afghanistan, so he knew what to look for. He also knew very well what he was doing when he asked the medic friend who was attending to him to get him a phone. 

I can't imagine how much worse that day would have been for Donna, his mother, and myself, and his brother and two sisters, if he had not made that call. We were so reassured by that courageous call. Not bad for a twenty-two year old. 

Almost from the time Andy was born, the whole world was just barely a big enough place to hold him. He could not grow up fast enough. He could not experience life soon enough. 

But when Andy went in the military, he finally found a life platform that he was comfortable with. It was big and complex.   And, it was involved in far flung and noble things. It was exciting and worth while. And, it fit him.

It allowed him to be involved with huge and complex equipment (which he loves), to cross oceans and international borders, and operate on the larger scale of life. It empowered him in a way that the small world of his mother and I never could.

Andy, was hurt in the Army, but the Army didn't hurt him. It has been, in many ways the greatest blessing to him. It has expedited his maturity, it has given him a molding responsibility as a medic caring for 40 men, and it has given him an expanded dimension to his character.

The medic who put Andy on the chopper told Daniel not to worry, that he would watch out for "Doc" (Andy's nickname). His words, "He's our boy. We'll take care of him." 

 The medic told Daniel that he would personally keep us informed as best he could until Andy left Bagram Air Base. And, he did. He gave us early information that was so precious.

Thursday was a long day as we waited for news. But it was not nearly as long as it might have been because friends and family began to rally around us. 

 It was like a flash fire of sympathy and support and empowering prayers. By Friday noon literally thousands of people were praying for Andy including our local church, scores of churches across our denomination and several others. In 30 years in the ministry, I have never seen such a wind of compassion and intercession.

Sometimes, when one reaches the stage of life that I'm in, you start to assess. You wonder have you done it right. Or maybe better said, has you life amounted to something? 

I have discovered something about success through all of this. Success is definitely a function of relationship, not ownership. As word got around, friends called from across long years of time and great expanses of geography to say, "We love you and we are praying for Andy." 

And through their tears they offered every sort of assistance. It has been the purest, most uncomplicated outpouring of love that I have ever seen. They are truly our wealth, and I am satisfied that , by that measure, we have been the greatest success in life. No more assessing for me.

By Friday afternoon Andy was in surgery at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany. By 4:30 it was over and the doctor called us. 

 Donna and I experienced the darkest hour of our life after that conversation. The doctor said that Andy had been hit by a Russian made rifle they call a "DK" for short. It is a very powerful weapon akin to our 50 caliber. 

Andy once told me in conversation that, the DK was the one they really worried about. The bullet was two inches long and 5/8" in diameter. It is a ferocious weapon. And, except for God's limiting hand, Andrew could not possibly have survived the impact. But, he did - praise God.

Nevertheless, the news from the doctor was not all what we had hoped for. He said that Andy was stable, but the bullet had destroyed two vertebrae and partially severed his spinal chord. 

He went on to say that Andy would have the use of his arms, though it would be limited at first.   But, he was certain that this would improve with time. 

 However, the doctor gave us no hope that Andy would regain the use of his legs except to say, "but save room for a miracle, I've seen them before." He said that the early movement in Andy's legs in the field was really more of a spasm from the wound, not the normal voluntary movement.

In the first hour after that call, my wife and I were both emotionally devastated. She burst into tears. And though I have been a minister for thirty years and have comforted hundreds of people, I just could not find words to comfort her. My own grief was so profound that my mind just shut down. I took her hand. That was just all I had.

For a few moments the world stopped. There was no sound. There was no movement. There was just the silence of perfect grief. But, after a while, something happened. We began to breath again. We began to move a little forward in our mind again. God began to comfort us in an unexplainable way. A deeply personal touch, that was just for us.

Then, Daniel (27 years old) called his mother again. He is a joy to us. He has a strong faith and a kind heart and a wonderfully gracious mind. He had the words of encouragement, exactly the words that his mother needed. I don't know all that he said to her, but I know that by the end of their conversation she was able to manage a slight smile as she hung up the phone.

No sooner had Andy left Landstuhl Hospital in Germany than the Department of the Army began making arrangements for our family to be with Him at Walter Reed Hospital in Washington. We could not have asked for more sensitivity or compassion from them. 

The army personel were flawless throughout the whole ordeal. They made absolutely sure that we had constantly updated information about Andy's condition, about where he was going and what would be done for him. As Donna thanked one officer for their care, he choked up on the phone. There was a moment of silence and then he said with breaking voice, "Ms. Burnett, it's the least we can do."

We called the Army information office on Friday night for a late update just before we went to bed and the sergeant in Washington said, "You know, I think I can patch you through to the Hospital in Germany now and you can talk to Andrew's nurse. Almost before I could realize it, it was done. And a wonderful nurse filled me in on how Andy was doing.

She said he had talked to the doctor and that he knew his condition. She told us that he was handling it very well. She said that he had mostly been asking about some of his guys who had preceded him to Landstuhl. 

 She said that about the only time he got emotional was when he thought about the impact that this would have on his family. Then she offered to take the phone to him and put it up to his ear so we could talk. I was overjoyed.

We talked for a couple of minutes. We asked how he felt etc. He had no complaints. We told him how much we loved him and how proud we were. Then he said something I will never forget. He said, "Well, Dad, I took a bullet, and I'm really sorry, but at least it wasn't able to get to any of my guys." I was so moved I could hardly say goodnight.

Andy is not just a medic by training, he is a medic in his heart. He has a true sense of duty and responsibility to his men.  And he had, and still has, a deep sense of belonging in his unit.

Andy and his unit have been fighting the hardest kind of war. It is a war of restraint. It is absolutely the hardest and the best way to wage war, if war must be. 

They are not an army that simply destroys and slaughters whatever is in front of them. They are an army that is out to win the peace as well as the war. They cultivate relationships in the Afghan community. They extend the hand of help and friendship every day.  
The American Army is are an army to be proud of, and Andy is proud to be part of it. And obviously, we are proud of Andy and the job that he and his unit have done.

On Saturday morning the love and support in the form of phone calls and emails continued to pour in. The prayer vigil for Andy continued to enlarge unbelievably. 

 Food really was not a high priority after Thursday.  But, by late Saturday afternoon, we realized it was time to eat a meal, ready or not. So, I think as much for the distraction as the food, Donna and I went to a local restaurant and ordered breakfast. 

While we were eating, our oldest daughter, Sarah, called. She said, "I've called to confess. I'm on my way to Walter Reed. I have to do something. If they send Andy some place else, I'll just turn around and go there, but I want to be there for him when he arrives."

Sarah is our oldest. She lives in Nashville, Tennessee with her very supportive husband Joal and our two grandsons. We have to be careful about getting in Sarah's way. She is very soft spoken and soft hearted and she can cry all over you in a heartbeat. Daddy's don't like that. So, we told her, "You go girl." And, she did.

By the time Andy arrived at Walter Reed on Sunday, Sarah was arriving too. It was a pretty overwhelming sight to see her brother for the first time. He was all trussed up to keep him immobile. But Sarah is very brave, very strong, and very brother oriented. And, we all breathed easier knowing that Sarah was there.

With Sarah's almost simultaneous arrival with Andy, we immediately began to receive high quality cell phone reports of exactly what was going on. She told us, somewhat tearfully, that trying with all his might on Sunday, Andy couldn't lift his right arm off of the pillow. But, by Monday noon He had both arms over his head.

Sarah said, the therapist asked Andy if he needed to rest. His answer was, "No, let's keep going." When he was asked, "Is that too painful?" his answer was, "No, just do what you have to do." Sarah said he was giving 1000% to the process.

I've known for a long time that Andy was a noble human being. He has always been a person with a big heart, a tender heart, and real integrity. But, I am humbled by what I have seen in him sense that Thursday morning six weeks ago. He could not have acted more selflessly through this devastating circumstance.

But, I have to say, the most powerful impact to my own heart has been through what Andy hasn't done. He has asked no "why" questions. Why me? Why did God? 

 He hasn't blamed anyone. On that first morning after his surgery Andy just woke up and went to work on getting better. On my best day, I think I've never been my son's equal. He honors his family, the Army, and his community and country.

Daniel arrived at Walter Reed on Monday, July 21, one day after Sarah. Andy and Daniel are really sons and citizens of Tyler, Texas. Their heart is there. They share an apartment there (still Andy's home address).  They both belong to a local church there and are deeply invested in that church family.  

And they love each other. Andy loves all of us deeply, but when it comes to Daniel... When it comes to Daniel... Andy loves his brother.

Daniel's travel was courtesy of the Army Travel Office which, again, has been superb in their help to our family. They called Donna and I on Sunday when Andy's destination hospital was set and asked, "Are you ready to travel?" We need a little time to make arrangements for my Mother's care, but they got Daniel in the air on Monday. 

 They made all arrangements, met him at the airport in Washington and took him right to Walter Reed, just as they would do again for Donna and I when we arrived. They provided for all of our lodging and meals as well as numerous other needs that we had.  One lady actually lovingly threatened us if we bought anything before we checked with her.   

Then began our time at Walter Reed. I've never been in a hospital like this one. When we arrived, Andy was in what they call at Walter Reed, "Warrior Care." He was in the surgical intensive care unit on the forth floor.  And, he was assigned a nurse whose station was right outside the door of his room. 

This was the case for every soldier in that unit. One soldier, one nurse - at the door. The attention to our soldier was constant, and at a very high level of professionalism. Doctor's and nurses alike were not just attentive, but dedicated and determined.

My sister, Judy, who has been an RN for years now works at a civilian hospital in Maryland. She visited Andy several times at Walter Reed even after he was out of intensive care. Her words, "I can't believe the level of care here. This is wonderful. I've never seen this level of care in any of the hospitals that I have work in."

Donna and I arrived at Walter Reed in the afternoon.  The first thing, of course, was to hug the boy for a long time.  

That evening when only Andy and I were in the room for a moment he look up at me with those big blue eyes and said in the most desperate voice I've ever heard from him, "Dad, I need to talk to you. I need you to be my dad.  And, I need you to be my pastor." 

 I asked Andy if he wanted me to stay the night. His mouth said no, but his eyes said yes.

Thus began 3 weeks of sitting by Andy's bed side through the night, watching him dream of the battlefield and the job he did in  Afghanistan.  It was a time of late night father-son talks, of crying together, of being dad again to my wounded son to make him feel safe. It was a time of thinking about life on a deeper level, of strange and uninvited emotions, of sometimes "lostness" and sometimes great clarity.

So, through no real plan, Dad became the "night shift guy." And, Mom's day job came to be to meet, and interact with the endless staff people who were treating Andy.  And Daniel became "Mr. Leg man," to take care of Andy's various administrative needs.

By the time Donna and I got to Walter Reed, there were already literally thousands of people praying for Andy.  And they were very much emotionally immersed in his circumstance. 

Many spoke of going to their computer several times a day just to see if there was any late word on their email. So, one of my most important duties came to be to put out the daily email update in the evening before I joined Andy for the night. Then these updates were forwarded countless times until everyone could hear.

The following are excerpts from some of those emails which trace the events of those days. My greeting at the first of each update was always to Andy's family. Everyone became so invested in Andy's circumstance that we decided that Andy really didn't have any friends left. Everyone had simply evolved into family because of the level of their caring. So, we started to refer to and think of them in that way. These then, are some of the memories that began six weeks ago at Walter Reed.

Update for July 25
Dear family,

Andy is as courageous as ever. His commander in Afghanistan asked his own best friend, also career Army officer, (I think a 1 star general) to come by and check on Andy until his commander could get here himself. He came by this afternoon. 

I am glad that I was there for that conversation. This man was obviously a warrior, but he was visibly moved by Andrew's attitude and what he had to say.

I think he actually stayed much longer than he originally intended. He was absolutely drawn in by Andy's off the cuff esprit d' corp comments from his heart. 

The officer did not realize that he was doing it, but he kept inching closer to Andy as they talked. He was originally standing at the foot of the bed and kind of assuming the tough military posture. 

But moment by moment he unconsciously moved from the foot of the bed, up the side, and eventually began to lean on the rail of the bed right beside Andy. Nearing the end of the conversation, he say, "Burnett, I'm Italian and you know we show our emotions.  Is it ok if I give you a kiss on the forehead.  Andy, smiled and nodded; and, the officer  leaned over and kissed him on his forehead.

This career officer is due to assume a new command soon and these were his words to Andy. "I needed this conversation. I will get through my next command on the power of the inspiration that you have given me." He could not have been more grateful and complimentary to Andy's character and demeanor.

I have come to understand through Andy and during this time that there are actually different kinds of heroes. There are those who, in a moment, do something noble that is actually disconnected from who they are. The moment simply thrusts a choice on them and they act. They, themselves may not be noble at all.

But, then there are truly noble heros. Their heroism is absolutely based in who they are in their character. Those are the best kinds of hero's. Those are the "God built" hero's. They bring their heroism to the whole of their life, not just to an isolated moment. Andy is that kind of hero.

Andy, is very aware of his prognosis, but he is undaunted. He told his therapist, "Give me something to work on my arms, I think they're going to have to be my 'money-makers' now.  I don't know about my legs, so I've got to maximize what I do have.

He seems truly aware that there will be good days and bad days along the road that lies ahead. But his view is just forward.

There is an additional surgery coming up on Tuesday to fuse the damaged vertebrae in his neck. He is looking forward to that so he can "lose" the very restrictive brace that he is in now.  He wants to get on to some more challenging physical therapy.

Please pray for Andy to be able to rest. He is still just a week or so from some very difficult battlefield conditions. He has dreams that seem to be partly the result of his experiences and partly the result of the powerful medicines that he is taking. Please ask God to give a swift healing to his subconscious.

I am finding out that Andy kept a lot of what he was going through from us. I know that he wanted to spare us the worry. But here, in this place, a much more complete picture is coming out. 

And, as Andy spoke to the officer that I mentioned earlier, it became painfully obvious what binds together this "band of brothers" together. It is their courage, their shared pain and loss. 

That bond transcends all of their differences and draws them together in what seems an almost "unbreachable" loyalty to each other. And while we can see it, and even describe it with words, I think most of us will never really know the depth of their brotherhood.

Up date July 27
Dear Family,

We have discovered that Andy really did played down, in his phone conversations with us over the last 15 months, the level of activity that he was engaged in. I remember what he said when I took him to the airport to return from his last leave.  He said, "Don't worry about me Dad. I'm just going to work."

Andy is in 3rd platoon, C (Chosen) company, 2nd Battalion of 503 Infantry (The 173rd Airborne Brigade ) We found out just today that Andy's unit "The Rock" has been awarded 6 Silver Stars, 48 Bronze Stars with valor, more than 140 Army Commendation Medals with valor, 98 Purple Hearts, more than 150 other awards have been submitted for approval, including 2 for Medals of Honor, 3 Distinguished Service Crosses, and 3 more for Silver Stars as of June 30th. Obviously not the stuff of business as usual.

Each member of our family seems to relate a little differently to what has happened to Andy. This new awareness of the level of his combat environment has stirred what I know to be, on some level, irrational questions in me. Really they are probably better described as defensive instincts: "If I could just have been there."  "Did they choose the right defensive position?" "Were they careful in their planning?" 

Those are really the just same instincts that played out a thousand times when Andy was still at home with us. But then, they were just all rolled in to one short sentence each time he went out the door: "Be careful, Andy."

I think our children never really understand the soul searching of the parents who watch for them. They don't know what it's like to be constantly on guard. They probably will someday, but they don't understand it as a child. They just think life is a "hoot." But, we see it as the great adversary. 

So, when they get in their cars to go off somewhere out of our sight we always say, with way more anxiety than they know, "Be careful." But within that simple admonition are encased all of the desperate questions: "Is what they're doing safe?" "Have I covered all the bases?"

And, somewhere along the way this fathering thing seems to stop being so cerebral and becomes more of an instinct. It is always there. It never sleeps. And it comes to life and reacts instantly, and sometimes not very rationally, concerning the issues surrounding  our children...

On July 30 Deborah, Andy's younger sister and our youngest child (20) arrived at the hospital. Andy lit up like a neon sign when he saw her. I can't believe how close they are today.  When they were children they argued all the time, and I mean ALL the time. 

 Deb is planning to be married this Fall. The only reason the wedding did not take place in the summer was because Andy could not be there. The date was actually moved twice to try to accommodate his leave opportunities. 

 So, Deb is now part of Andy's family support too.  She will be here for a few days.

Update: August 3
Dear  Family,

For so long now in our family, the Lord has used the Lord's Day as a healing and renewing time in our lives. And this time at Walter Reed is no exception. 

There is something truly wonderful about the quiet presence of God on Sunday, especially Sunday afternoon. Even as I write this, Andy is sitting up in bed quietly talking with his Mom. Sometimes his sense of humor even peeks through as he slips in a funny zinger here and there, followed by his beautifully crooked smile.

For the last two days he has brightened up a good bit through the business part of the day. We are so grateful for that. I was kidding him earlier about zoning out at night due to the dull company (me). He quickly agreed, wholeheartedly.

I talked with one of Andy's friends from his outfit today. Michael was in the battle a few weeks ago in Afghanistan where nine men from the 173rd were lost and 16 were wounded. At one point in our conversation, he began to talk of young people in his age range (Micheal is 20) and he said, "I don't find many that I can respect or relate to. They're just involved with such small things."

After Michael and I parted, I wondered if what he said might apply to almost our whole country these days. I think America's awareness has not yet caught up to its reality. 

We are engaged in what will probably be a "trans generational" war for the survival of all things dear, and yet, we have little awareness of that fact and thus a constantly lessening will to act. We are, I think, in real danger of slipping quietly into the night because we lack the individual and collective fortitude to rise and confront the darkness...

...As I see young people Andy's and Micheal's age fretting frantically over the color of their cell phone, as I notice their moms and dads with their heads in the economic sand while the world teeters on the brink, as I consider so many self absorbed politicians here in Washington, I understand Michael's dilemma. No wonder he has trouble finding someone to respect, young or old.

Andy and Micheal and those like them have sacrificed a lot to serve the light and protect our way of life and keep hope and decency alive in this world. I pray that we do not belittle their sacrifice by making it nothing more than a bulwark for our own shallowness.

In the movie, "Saving Private Ryan," a dying sergeant whispered a message to the man whose life he had just saved at the expense of his own life and that of several others. He said -"Earn this."

My prayer for America in these days is that, in the face of such noble sacrifice, our gratitude would move us to become a people of greater resolve, a people that will not break faith with that sacrifice nor the cause for which it was made...

Up date: August 4
Dear Family,

Andy and I passed a pretty good night last night. At one point he felt a flashing pain that went through his body. He said it felt exactly like the initial impact of the bullet. To say the least, it was very unnerving to both of us. But, today we found out that it was probably the stitches that had somewhat integrated into the wound.

Today was quite a day at Walter Reed. Everybody shows up on Monday morning. This place has a kind of rhythm. On Mondays everything starts "flat out" and "full bore." Doctors, staff, in patients, outpatients, in laws, outlaws, administrators - people come out of the wood works. 

Then it begins to taper down from there throughout the week until we reach almost ghost town status on the week ends. It is really very interesting to watch and experience. It's like a "hospital heartbeat."

Andy saw a parade of doctors and technicians today. His pancreas is improving and they are now checking his shoulder. It is the shoulder that he fell on when he was wounded. It has been achy for several days and they will x-ray it today to check for any possible injury.

We are still deciding on a rehab facility. I will let everyone know as soon as we know.

Andy had a long time friend from Texas visit today. His name is Daniel, a child hood friendship that has stay in tact over the years. Andy was exhausted, but he was very glad to see Daniel. Donna made the statement today that Andy collects people in his life like other people collect stamps. And that is true...

As Donna and I "passed in the road" this afternoon we decided to eat dinner in the "difac" together before she went back to the hotel and I went on night shift. (To those of you who are among the uninitiated, "Difac" is Army talk for Dinning Facility. Army speak is a whole other subject for another day ) ...

Up date: August 6
Dear Andy's Family,

I am learning compassion at a higher level these days as I watch your responses to Andy and our family. You make me aware that I must pause longer and look with more truly caring eyes at the pain and struggle of others. I have been truly changed by what I have seen in all of you.

Andy continues to collect people as usual. It happened again yesterday. The nurse came in late last night and as he was working on Andy he made a passing comment. He said, "Andy, you really impressed Douglas" (I think that was the name). He said, "He was blown away by what you said."

This visit happened on day shift while I was sleeping, so I did not really know what they were talking about. We have been visited by several high ranking officers since we have been here and I thought they were referring to another one of those visits. 

But, after the nurse finished and left I asked Andy who he was talking about.  He said it was a fellow soldier who came to see him. Three weeks ago he stepped on an explosive in Iraq and he lost both of his legs, his left hand, and suffered "spinal compression" and burns to his face. Andy's comment was, "Dad, I know things could be much worse for me."

I don't know what Andy said to that young man, but I know that Andy was the one who was "blown away" by this soldiers courage. And he also couldn't believe how far that this man's courage and the doctors at Walter Reed had brought him in just 3 weeks. 

Andy continues to improve, as well. His pancreas is clearing up nicely. And this morning, he sat on the "throne chair" (a huge adjustable cardiac chair) and they rolled him down to the barber shop for a hair cut. He got back exhausted, but he won't back away from anything that moves him closer to "normal."

He is still in-and-out somewhat due to the extreme exhaustion of his last 2 months on the battlefield, and the wound, and the effect of his medicines. But he is making visible progress. 

He never complains. And, he seems infinitely patient with what are sometimes very slow and difficult processes.  And, these are the basic things that he has been used to doing much faster and easier: from turning in the bed to brushing his teeth to learning to use his fingers again.

It would appear that he will be going to Florida for his initial rehab. There is a facility there that is reported to be the "best in the system." It is where most special forces are sent for their rehab (naturally that would appeal to Andy). 

That initial rehab, we're told, should last about 4 - 6 weeks, and then, probably back to Texas (maybe Dallas) to complete his transition. That's about all we know at this point.

Andy, is kind of quiet (for Andy) these days. When one of the therapist asked him about it the other day he said, "I'm just working through the big things." 

He and I continue to talk, when he wants to, about the "big things." Please pray that God would give him the graceful insights that he needs at this juncture...

Up date: August 7
Hello family,

Today, we had probably the best day we have had since surgery. I talked with the doctors as they came in early this morning about Andy's drowsiness etc. through the day. He has not really been clear since his surgery. I suspected the meds. and I ask for some adjustments. As usual, they responded immediately and he was much brighter and more active today.

He had a teleconference with the rehab facility today. In all there were about 30 doctors involved around 2 conference tables, one at WR and one in Florida. The Florida group assured Andy that they had the facility and the expertise to get him to his maximum. 

Then Dr. Scott, the main doctor in Florida, asked Andy if he had the drive to go the distance. Donna said that he straightened up and in the strongest voice he's had since he's been here he said, "Ah Sir, Yes sir. That is an affirmative!" Yep, that's military bearing Andy.

Nevertheless, he is also still working through those "big issues." Please continue to pray for him in that regard. He is kind of fighting a two front war, one with himself and one with his rehab. But, he is doing an admirable job of both. It seems to Dad these days that he just must be older than 22 years...

Up date: August 9
Dear Family,

Well it is Saturday evening in the Ghost town of Walter Reed. It's actually a nice change of pace around here. Daniel and I ganged up on Donna today and made her take off today. 

I walked her to downtown Silver Spring MD to take care of some personal errands before I went to sleep this morning. The temp was about 80 with a soft breeze. We shopped for a few minutes and then had lunch at a sidewalk eatery. It was really nice to sit there on a beautiful street that was full of people, flowers, and small trees and plantings beautifully woven into the city tapestry.

It seemed to be a careless Saturday morning for everyone. There were people walking their dogs and smiling sidewalk vendors, and kids playing in the fountain. And all up and down the streets there were people sitting in the sidewalk cafes reading, and eating, and talking. It was a storybook moment...

Up date: August 10
Dear Family,

Andy seems to have had a good day based on reports that I got after I got up tonight. He visited with his Aunt Judy and Uncle Ron who live here in MD and have been coming on the weekends. He and Ron have really bonded. Ron brought him a Longhorn's Tee. Andy was tickled.

Andy went out for the first time in an electric chair today. I asked Donna how it went. She said that after some work to get him in it, he looked at the controls for a second and then took off - no problem. 

She said if there was a problem, it was that it didn't go fast enough for him. Yep, that would be Andrew.

He is, as I write this, pretty knocked out from those events and the day in general. I notice real improvement in his arms. And he has been really interested, like most of us, in keeping up with the Olympics.

Andy continues to bond around here. His Physical Therapist came in on her day off to help with his chair outing. When she left the room after that outing she was crying. Donna was able to comfort her a good bit. 

Several staff members here at WR have asked us to add their email address to our list so they can follow Andy's progress. I suspect we will all have to run pretty fast to "follow Andy's progress."
Love to all. Larry, Donna, and Family

Up date: August 11
Dear Family,

I told the driver of our hotel shuttle today as we rode to the hospital, that probably the greatest peace that we know in this life is when we are surrounded by those who love us. That circle begins of course with God's presence, but it is certainly completed by the loving, protective, and supporting arms of the people who love us. 

All of us need to know that place and that peace. Donna and I are so aware of that peaceful circle in these days. Thank you for that.

Andy has not yet comprehended the size of that circle, though we have tried to convey it. But he will come to "get it" in time. 

There are still issues with alertness. He has times, but not full days by any means, when he is alert. This is partly do to the meds and partly due to the exhaustion of his body.

He is having victories each day. But, he is also still struggling in many ways. The doctors continue to watch his lungs and a low grade fever. And we continue to watch his emotional condition. I can tell in the last few days that the more he heals the more wounded he becomes by his new reality. 

He is dealing with it. But it is painful. And it will take time, obviously.

One of the great tragedies of life is that wars are often fought by the young. They are innocent and naive and really just wanting to taste life. Then suddenly, they are snatched to the most horrible and base plane of the human existence and their innocence is almost instantly replaced with the greatest terror. Then they come home.

As I have talked with Andy and other young soldiers here, I have come to realize that when they come home they do not think that anyone really understands their pain, except those who shared their trauma. So, their strongest instinct is to get back to their unit, to be with each other, to be with those that understand. 

It is as though the terror is somehow less terrifying because they share it among themselves. So, they start to believe their group to be exclusive, and the tendency is to shut others out as the uninitiated.

We often see this same thing with police officers who also are forced see the most base things in life. Often they only associate with other police officers for essentially the same reason: "The rest of us just don't understand."

So, what do we do? I am certain that I don't have all those answers. But, I have begun to try to convey to Andy that his group is really not as exclusive as he might think and that there are people, in fact many people who really do understand. 

I hope I can convince Andy that life's terror is life's terror no matter where you find it, and that courage is courage whether on the battlefield or off.  I can never accept being pushed out of Andy's healing because I wasn't on his battlefield. 

Please pray that God will lend His power and blessing to this part of Andy's healing in particular. Love to our circle. Larry, Donna, and Family

Up date: August 12
Dear family,

I'm running a little late. I apologize for the brevity of this update, but I thought short was better than non existent. I will try to send more later in the wee hours of the morning when they take Andy for a CT scan ( this place never sleeps).

Andy had a big day today. He was in his electric chair again and pretty much all over the hospital today. He now looks forward to getting out of bed and doing stuff. 

 He essentially "blew em away" at physical therapy today. Then he got a shave (a shave - when did he start shaving?) at the hospital barber shop. Then down, still in the chair, for some lab work.
He is now zonked out but obviously - it was a good day.

Thanks so much for you continued prayers. Hopefully, more after midnight. Love Larry

Update: August 13
Dear family,

Andy has had another rehab type day. He was busy learning new skills. It is hard to convey this process verbally. Andy goes at it 110 percent. But to do that, he has to overcome the lack of perfect clarity, due to the effect of his medications. He has to struggle to communicate through a weakened voice due to his surgeries. And he has to hold his emotional life in check as he battles through the issues of how his life has changed.

This latter issue is really - the issue. Today, some of the New York Mets Baseball team were at the hospital visiting with some of the soldiers. The hospital is careful to get permission before bringing visitors into the room. When they asked Andy if he wanted them to visit he "waived them off."

This incident clearly characterizes what Andy is going through. It is much different when a soldier is wounded, but he knows that he will heal and life will be basically as it was before. 

For Andy, and those like him, that is not the case. Their life is not going to be the same. They are not able to look forward to returning to normal, because they do not know what normal is any more.

So, everything in life becomes bitter sweet. Even our loving support and all of our best wishes and encouragement produce a confusion of emotions for him. These are met with a mix of gratitude mingled with fear and magnified anxiety. And, daily now, I see him trying to sort it all out.

As he struggles in this stage, it seems that only the things that have real gravity matter at all. The shallow stuff and the light weight stuff of life never really get his attention right now. The consuming desire is just to do what ever is possible to get better. To get down the road. To find out what you can do again. All that really matters is "what will fix this."

Andy is always polite and considerate to those around him. But he is in real emotional pain. And everyday I see him quietly shield the people around him from that pain. He doesn't lash out, he doesn't complain. He just works at it. Hour after hour, day after day, he works at bringing his emotional life and his physical life back to the place of some meaning.

I love this kid. I love who he is right now. I love what I see in his character and the strength of his heart. 

But, I look forward to the day when we can laugh and talk about silly things together again. I look forward to the time when peace and confidence return to his life. 

But this is not that day. Today I have to be serious with him and accept the issues that are important to him and join in the gravity of his struggle. The struggle is really all that matters right now. And, to be part of Andy's life right now is to be part of his struggle.

Nor is his life about the past right now. It is not about visits from baseball players or high ranking officers. Right now Andy's life is about finding the real substance of what will put life back together. And I think, right now, all he needs is the time to get that done, because he already has the heart.

I know that all of you love Andy. Some of you have never even met him, and yet I know that you love him with a true love. Thank you for being part of his struggle. 

Maybe we should all agree that, one day, after the tears, when it is appropriate, we will all laugh together at some silly thing of no consequence.
Love to all Larry, Donna, and Family.

Up date: August 14
Dear Family,

Well things are a-changin' around here. We are all looking to "break camp" at Walter Reed (a whole new set of emotions). Andy continues to do well in therapy. He also continues to work through the issues. 

He and Donna had a long talk today. God seemed to block the door to the room, which is typically very busy during the day, to allow them that time. We were so grateful.

Travel plans are still somewhat tentative, but they are eminent for all of us. It kind of hit me today that we are going to be separated from the boys for a while. I suspect they will handle it a lot better than Donna and I.

As we parted today, I paused at the door of his room on my way out.  I turned and said, in some pain,  "Ange, do you think you'll be OK (meaning, without me)?"  He said, with the slightest smile, "Now Dad, we gotta be big boys now." (Smarty pants )
   

That was the last up date from Walter Reed. So, went the first four weeks of the last six weeks in the lives of the Burnett's. 

 For the last couple of weeks, Andy and Daniel have been in Florida involved in intensive rehab. Sarah arrived there on the day of this writing, Thursday, August 28, just to see if Daniel was doing everything the way she wanted it done. 

Really, she went to let Dan off for the weekend. But he will return as he is Andy's non-medical attendant. The Army provides for him to be with Andy through his entire rehab, perhaps a year in all.

So, the last six weeks have introduced our family to an entirely new facet of the American experience. But it remains true that there really is no place else on earth like this place. 

 In spite of all the criticism, we are still the world's brightest beacon of hope. We really do show the rest of the world, especially the 3rd world, how life can be lived with confidence and joy and excitement for the journey.

Even since that Thursday morning six weeks ago, when the phone rang with news of Andy's injury, the country has continued to do that very thing. Our young people have been living it up. Our politics, as usual, have been a "circus." 

 American business has made people rich. American families have celebrated babies, birthdays, and Disney World. And American soldiers, the bravest of the brave, have guarded us all as we did it.

My hope, as the father of one of those brave guardians, is just that America would keep faith with all of them. To provide for their needs, both on and after the battlefield, is the best of all ways to thank them for their service. They are, after all, our own precious sons and daughters.

Update:  September 2008

Andy did go to Florida for a year of rehab – which he completed it in 6 months. Then he came home under his own power (he refused to use electric wheel chairs).  

When the day finally came to return to Texas, I made that thousand mile trip with Andy.  But, he insisted on driving the whole way.  I think that was somewhat about proving himself, but maybe more about not trusting Dad with his brand new pick-up.

So, we arrived back home driving this big, black truck which was so big that even I struggled to get into it. But, Andy figured out a way to get it done. That’s what people who rise above do. 

Somewhere along the way we all jokingly started calling that truck "The Paper Doll".  It was because, for a while, Andy was putting so much stuff on it and taking so much stuff off of it that the name just seemed appropriate.

Shortly after his return home to Tyler, Texas, Andy also built a new home. He started working on a degree at the local college. And, eventually, he married his beautiful wife, Elizabeth.

Elizabeth was one of the nurse practitioners at James A. Haley Hospital where Andy went through rehab. They had a long-distance courtship for a while, until Elizabeth moved to Tyler and they were married, now four years ago.

Several months ago, Andy and “Lizzy” informed the family that they were moving back to Florida. We knew very well how very happy they were in Tyler; so, our first question, of course, was, “Why?” 

 They told us that both of Elizabeth’s grandparents had become so advanced in their Alzheimer’s disease that he and Elizabeth felt like they had to move there to help Elizabeth’s mother with their care. As Andy and I talked about their move later, I told him how we dreaded the loss of their closeness. But, I also made sure he knew how proud we were of what they were doing. 

 Andy’s deflective answer, “Well Dad, it’s just what families do.”  Yep, Andy's back.  He just gets around a bit differently, these days.