Now here's this week's post:
Taking care of soldiers and their families is a full-time job. Some negatively compare it to baby-sitting or running a prison ward. In times of rapid deployments, troops (and those who stand behind them on the home front) often suffer. While many maintain healthy relationships and balanced decision-making, others struggle to provide financially and emotionally for those they love. While Matt was a platoon leader I saw several tragic examples of lives wrecked by immature, unreasonable, and unhealthy behaviors. While it was difficult to watch such self-destruction, it was also evident that Army life is a ripe mission field. It is an opportunity to be the hands and feet of Jesus regardless of whether you even speak His name.
One challenging circumstance presented itself when Matt received a call that one of his soldiers threatened to kill himself. He was then committed to the psychiatric ward leaving his wife and 14 month old baby unsure and worried about the future. Matt told me we needed to go visit the family, explain what was going on, and then take them to the hospital for a supervised visit. It was apparently an argument between husband and wife that incited the soldier to voice his intentions.
When we walked into the on-post, sub-standard housing of this soldier and his wife, I was surprised at what we saw. This was only the second time I had been in one of Matt’s soldier’s homes, and it was discouraging, to say the least. The stale smoke of cigarettes immediately assaulted my senses, followed by the sight of toys strewn around the room, a 42 inch screen television sitting on the floor beside an XBOX 360 and several games, with a fourteen month old baby girl, dirty face and all, clinging to her mama’s leg. There was one couch but no other furniture present in the house. The wife talked non-stop in a flurry of words that didn’t add up to much sense. She was clearly shaken up by the recent events. While Matt explained to her how long her husband would probably have to stay in the hospital, and the possibility that he would be chaptered out of the Army, I offered reassuring smiles and nods of the head.
After a few minutes, Matt told her she could follow us to the hospital where we could make sure she had some time with her husband. She quickly dressed the baby and gathered up her things before walking out to her car.
When we arrived at the hospital’s psychiatric wing, the nurses informed the wife that since it was a locked ward, the baby could not accompany her. The wife and nurse both looked at me, until I realized they were asking me to watch the child. Once I grasped the idea that I was on babysitting duty, I quickly sprang into action: shouldered the diaper bag, took the baby’s hand, and led her into the waiting room where I saw some toys. Matt went back with the nurse and the soldier’s wife, mouthing back at me, “thank you.”
For about two hours, I played with that little girl in a hospital waiting room, walking her up and down the hall when she needed a change of scene, and comforting her when she cried for her mom. About half way through the time, Matt came out to check on me, reassuring me it wouldn’t be much longer. Then two nurses came out with a group of patients (including the soldier and his wife). I looked at Matt questioningly, to which he responded with two words – “smoke break.” The soldier came over to me and greeted his little girl, asking the nurse if he could take her outside. She agreed as long as Matt and I continued to supervise.
Outside in the “smoking area,” Matt and I tried to stay at a distance in an attempt to give this family some privacy (and avoid the smoke). Not many minutes passed until the wife brought me the little girl and asked if I would watch her while she talked with her husband. I was both insulted and stunned that she would ask for this, when she’d already had an hour inside with him. While everything inside me wanted to sit this wife down and counsel her strongly, I remembered how sad it was that this couple (younger than Matt and I by 3 or 4 years) already had a baby yet struggled just to take care of themselves. So I smiled, took the baby, and walked to the side, more than ready to go back home.
Soon the nurses escorted the soldiers back inside the hospital. On the way, Matt told the wife we could only stay a little longer. She smiled and thanked us, saying she just wanted to make sure her husband got back to his room and say goodnight. Unfortunately, this took another hour to accomplish. At this point, I was very tired and ready to give up.
However, as I walked the little girl up and down the hall for the millionth time, commenting on all the pictures on the walls, I realized that I was looking at this situation all wrong. In my pride and selfishness, I didn’t think I should have to take care of somebody else’s child while they cleaned up a mess they could have prevented. But if I looked at it the way God looks at it, I saw that I should really be doing this as unto Him. Matthew 25:34-40 says, “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
Once I changed my perspective and realized Who I was serving, it became a whole lot easier. The tiredness melted away, and I felt a smile spread across my face. The little girl instantly responded to my improved attitude, and the time passed much more quickly. By the time the wife came back out, my arms were sore from the weight of the child, but my heart was filled with the joy of serving my God.
Not many weeks after this, Matt received a call from another soldier. One of the wives in the platoon had gone to another wife and shared that her husband hit her. This wife reported it to her husband who in turn called Matt. At this point, Matt followed protocol: called the soldier in (with or without MPs - his choice), questioned him, and remanded him to the barracks for 72 hours. While Matt questioned him, the wife was brought into the next room. Since Matt knew he would not be sending her husband home with her, he called me to ask if I would take the wife home.
When I got to the company, I walked back to Matt’s office so he could introduce me to the wife I would be transporting. Unbeknownst to me, the accused husband sat across from Matt with a mixture of shame and anger splayed across his face. I’ve never wanted to leave a room so quickly. Thankfully, Matt did not make me wait and showed me to another room where the wife sat with fresh tear stains on her cheeks. I smiled at her, held out my hand, and said, “Hi, my name’s Melissa. I’ll drive you home now if you’re ready.” She gave me a shy smile, shook my hand, and said thanks with an accent. Matt had just informed me that she was from Australia and didn’t have a driver’s license in the States yet. This poor girl! Here she was, not in her home country, allegedly abused by her husband, and dependent on her husband’s boss’s wife to take her home. Learning from the previous experience, my heart immediately went out to her and I sought to serve her as I would the Lord.
We walked out to my car, and I asked her where she lived. Once she told me, and I figured out how to get there, I smiled at her, wondering how awkward this ride would be. Of course, I didn’t feel comfortable bringing up the incident, but I also wanted to offer my support and set her at ease. While I drove off post, I gingerly danced around the topic and tried to offer my help. She was very reticent and disinclined to offer pleas for help. When we finally got to her neighborhood, she reassured me that her neighbors were very kind and would help her if she needed it. I hesitated to leave it at that so I gave her my cell phone number and urged her to call if she needed anything.
Although she never called, I saw her a few times after that at FRG meetings and company socials. Whenever I asked Matt about this couple, he said the wife recanted her story to her friend and said it was all a big misunderstanding. Whether that is true or not, I am still occasionally burdened for her, even today.
In spite of these small ways that I helped two women in their times of need, I was really the one who learned the lesson. God so often puts people in our paths to do that, doesn’t He? He not only showed me how to move past my selfish desires and serve others, He also taught me how to do it without words. God doesn’t always call us to preach to people. Sometimes He just wants us to serve them and let our actions speak for themselves.
In addition, prayer is a powerful resource, and I would be remiss if I didn’t take a second to acknowledge how effective it can be in situations like these. Whether it’s a quick parachute prayer sent up to God asking for words to speak to a hurting soul or an intercession for the families that struggle to support their servicemember, God hears them all and is constantly working on their behalf and mine. Even though I may never see these women or their families again, I can continue to pray for them. And maybe someday they will come to know the One who has been looking out for them all along. Proverbs 15:3 “The eyes of the LORD are everywhere, keeping watch on the wicked and the good.”