Adventures in The Chaplaincy- “Reflecting on Year One”

This past week was full of Facebook notification each morning with a new “memory” from past years. Those little pictures and status updates reminded just how much things can change in twelve months. I went from the Guard to Active Duty. From making $10/hour at Best Buy to a job that makes it easy to support my family. From feeling like I had a pretty good handle on what it meant to be a Guard Chaplain to having absolutely no idea what it was going to look like doing it every day.

To say that God has been good to us since May of last year would be an understatement. Sure, we’ve had some stressful times as we tried to figure everything out but on the whole it’s impossible not to see God’s blessing in so much of what we’ve experienced.

I was blessed to come into a unit and be immediately surrounded by a great team of people. I can’t say enough about the current leadership of 6-8 CAV. Having that supportive environment made it easy for me to get my legs underneath me and start figuring out what kind of Chaplain I was going to be. I’m still working on that, but I have a much better picture now than I did a year ago. I’ve learned a lot of my strengths and weaknesses. I’ve learned to play to my strengths (e.g. teaching, maintaining a small circle of close friends, maintaining calm in all circumstances) and recognize that every Chaplain brings something different to the table and that God uses all types, skill sets, and personality types to impact the lives of soldiers.

I spent more time in the field in twelve months than I did in twelve years in the Guard. I learned that some of the best conversations can happen around MREs and during lulls in training. I learned how to manage my personal resources so that I would not burn myself out during high optempo times. I learned that those quiet moments in my tent before I went to sleep were a great time to read, pray, and look out the tent flap at the brilliant stars above the Fort Stewart woods.

I learned that you can’t put a price on family time and that I need to make time for them. That means getting out of the office at a reasonable time each day whenever I can. That means taking trips together to enjoy this beautiful area where we find ourselves at this point in our lives. That means making sure I take a little time for myself so that my tank doesn’t run dry and I end with nothing left to give to my wife and kids.

I learned the importance of connecting with people. Thanks to Chapel Next, I connected with three other Chaplains who have been a great joy to get to know, pray with, complain to, laugh with, and do life with. That God put all of us in the same place and living within blocks of each other on post is a testament to how he has blessed us so tremendously. I dread the day that moving trucks start packing these men and their families away but I’m so grateful that during these formative months on Active Duty that they’ve been here.

The past twelve months have simultaneously been some of the most stressful and most rewarding I’ve ever experienced. Here’s hoping we are blessed with many more years ministering to soldiers and their families.

Recent Chapel Sermons

One major difference about being a Chaplain in my current position and being a civilian pastor is that I don’t preach nearly as often. I’ve only preached in Chapel four times since coming on Active Duty a year ago. I’ve done a number of shorter field services but in terms of the more traditional preaching that you’d see in any given church on a Sunday morning, I’ve only done that four times.

I’ve made a very conscious effort since my difficult experiences pastoring that I want to work to be an engaging preacher in terms of delivery. I’m not a great story teller, I’m not a natural at telling jokes, and pithy sermon illustrations are not my strong suite. But. But. God’s Word deserves to be presented in a compelling manner since it contains the most compelling message ever written. So in my opportunities to preach in Chapel I’ve pulled myself out of my introvert comfort zone and started working to present whatever text I’m preaching in a manner that is engaging.

I think that given time I would have gotten there in the pastorate but the Chaplaincy has forced me to maximize my preaching opportunities and that probably pushed me to hone my craft more quickly than I would have other wise.

Here are my four sermons from Chapel Next this past year:

Wrestling With God

The thinly carpeted wood floor in the old building creaked under his feet as he walked. He made his way to the front of the room. The path was so familiar that he didn’t even need to turn the lights on that night. As he came to front of the room, he turned and looked out at the empty space. It was a familiar view but the warm memories that once accompanied it had long since vanished and all that remained was the musty smell of old lumber and old carpet.

Wrestling.

He felt the book in his hands. Like the room, it was very familiar. The guilded edges on the pages were faded and wrinkled. The fake leather cover was creased. The book had held so many promises for the man. Promises of service and sacrifice. He anticipated the first but the rapid onset of the second hit him like a punch in the gut and left him gasping. Falling to his knees. Out of breath. Out of hope. As his knees fell to the carpet the tears began to fall from his eyes.

Wrestling.

His knees ached as the carpet failed to cushion from the old wood below it. His eyes burned with tears as he questioned the plan and providence of God. He felt a dream wilting in front of him like a flower left in a vase for too long. He saw the hurt in her eyes and heard the anger in her voice. Watching him suffer was tearing her apart. He looked in his little eyes as he wondered why his daddy kept coming home sad. Who knew that part of the service would mean that they would be hurt too? His heart broke in half.

Wrestling.

With a voice broken and raspy from the tears, he opened the guilded book. Since he had no words to express the anguish in his soul, he let the ancient words speak for him. “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” “My God, I cry by day but you do not answer!” “My strength is dried up like a potsherd…I am poured out like water…O LORD do not be far off!” Please. Please do not be far off.

Wrestling.

His knees popped as he picked himself up off the floor. The book was in his hands. He had wrestled with God. He was changed. Scarred. Broken. Limping. Moving.

Wrestling.

He left the front of the room and moved between the pews as he made his way out into the warm summer night. He looked up. The stars sang their song. The same song they sang thousands of years before when another man wrestled with God.

Wrestled.

Adventures in The Chaplaincy: “Field Problems-Introvert Stretching”

Since coming on Active Duty I’ve spent more time in the field than I have in probably my entire career in the Guard. Don’t hear me wrong. We went to the field in the Guard. We just didn’t do it with the regularity that I’ve now experienced on Active Duty. Part of that is due to the type of unit and brigade that I serve in but, nonetheless, it’s been a bit of a stretching and growing experience for me.

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If you’re into MBTI, I’m an ISFJ. I thrive in quiet. I thrive in small groups of people with whom I share strong relational bonds. I really enjoy teaching (Which may seem counterintuitive but I’ve met a lot of introverts who enjoy teaching. We just need a nap afterwards.). Large groups of people draw heavily from my emotional well. Typically, after engaging with large numbers of people I need some time to find a quiet respite.

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Being in the field means being with a sizable group of people for as long as it takes for us to accomplish our particular field problem. As a Chaplain, I make an effort to get out and see my soldiers as often possible. During our last field problem, I was able to do battlefield circulation where I spoke, face to face, with upwards of half of my unit for numerous days in a row. This was absolutely fantastic for getting to see my soldiers and get to know some of them better and provide a lot of on the spot counsel. Some of the conversations were just a few words while others were much more in depth.

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What I discovered was that at the end of the day I was completely spent. By the end of the field problem I wanted to find a quiet corner, put on headphones, and read a book completely undisturbed for about 32 hours. So I’m being stretched. God is pulling me out of my comfort zone every time we go to the field. It wears me down emotionally and spiritually but what I’m finding is that it builds bridges with soldiers that never would have been there otherwise.

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It has also forced me to look for those quiet moments in the midst of our field problems where I can recharge my batteries for a bit. For me this might mean that during a lull during the day, I find a quiet tree and read and pray for awhile. It might mean that if the mission allows, I go to bed a little earlier and use the time before I fall asleep in my little tent to read a book (I always bring a book to the field with me). On a spiritual level, it has reminded me to look to God for my strength and sustenance. One of my go to Psalms for a quick field devotional is Psalm 3 which speaks of David being sustained by the hand of God when he has reached the end of himself. That’s a reminder I need all the time. To try to do this on my own, to fill my well on my own, is folly.

I’m grateful that my first experience on Active Duty has been with a unit like this. It’s forced me to start to stretch my introversion a bit and also to work to develop healthy ways to recharge in the challenging environment of the field.