By Chaplain Chet Rains
Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make straight your paths.
– Proverbs 3:5-6
The years 2003-2007 were particularly interesting in my life. I was 4 years in as the pastor of Dortches Baptist Church, and things were going well. Everyone seems to be happy and everything runs on a somewhat even keel. Such as the way it was in June of 2003. My son, Tyler, graduated from high school and was trying to find himself in his new-found, young adult freedom. He ended up with an apprentice job at Watson Electrical and, when Fall rolled around, he enrolled at Nash Community College. He didn’t blaze any new scholastic trails, but he did okay for himself. Over the Christmas break he approached me and said, “Dad, I’ve decided not to go back to school.” Full of fatherly wisdom and more than happy to share such, I responded with, “Ok…so what’s your plan?” He replied, “I think I will join the Army.” Having graduated from a military college, and being a big fan of our armed forces, I was excited for him and proud of his choice. We rode together to our local Armed Forces Recruiting Station, where he took the ASVAB and scored well. The recruiter was breathless over his new prospect. Fast forward a couple of months. “Hey Dad! I decided not to join the Army.” Me: “Oh yeah? What do you plan on doing?” Tyler: “I’m joining the Marines.” I later learned that the events of September 11th had awakened the patriot spirit in my little blond-haired, brown-eyed boy’s man-sized heart.
Off to Parris Island he went and, thirteen weeks later, I cried when he and his platoon sang the Marine Corps hymn, loud and off-key, but full of more pride and testosterone and bravado than one can imagine. From Parris Island, it was off to North Carolina for some advanced combat training, then off to the proving grounds in Aberdeen, Maryland, for job school. Duty stations came next, and Tyler was assigned to Camp Pendleton, in Oceanside, California.
Until his West Coast departure, he had always been close to home and I could keep an eye on him, making sure he was safe. And now, at 19, he was on his own. He was there, and I was here. Though he was across the United States, he was still within “getting to” distance. That was about to change, and, when change did come, fear became a consuming beast that dominated my life. That above-mentioned little verse became my anchor in the storm. Fast forwarding again, Two 8-month tours in Iraq. I have never, ever, been more afraid in my life, before or since. I admit that I prayed more during those 16 months than I’ve ever prayed in my life. I didn’t watch the news, I didn’t read the newspaper, I cringed whenever the parsonage doorbell rang, and I absolutely hated to hear the phone ring. I confess that I was afraid, almost to the-point-of-being-sick-afraid, and I really learned what trusting in God was all about. Thankfully, he returned safely, and is now working as a policeman in Rochester, Michigan. But I’m basically still afraid and still trusting.
As times were uncertain then, they are uncertain now. People are afraid because no one can really and truthfully say when all of this will be over. The optimists believe it will all be over soon, and the pessimists believe in a brief calm before a 2nd or even a 3rd wave. I believe that the greatest enemy present is not really the virus itself, but the fear of uncertainty and the fear of the unknown surrounding it. There are many cautions and warnings around us—stay home, wear masks and gloves, keep a safe distance, get tested, and don’t take any unnecessary risks. I believe that encouragement is what we need most right now. Encouragement reminding us that we will persevere, we will emerge stronger than before, and, most of all, that God is still in control. As a boy, I learned that little verse many years ago in a Southern Baptist church in South Carolina, and I really had no idea then how comforting and sustaining it would be and could be. I’ve learned that the best thing that I can do when I’m afraid — and the best thing that we all can do when we’re afraid — is to trust in God. After all, “He is before all things, and in Him all things are held together.