Thursday, June 6, 2013
“So you, my child, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. Bear your share of hardship along with me like a good soldier of Christ Jesus…Therefore I bear with everything for the sake of those who are chosen, so that they too may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, together with eternal glory.” 2 Timothy 2: 1, 3 and 10
Revelry sounded but I did not wake up. I was already awake. All of us were. I rose from my bunk in slow motion, each strain of my muscles etched in my memory. All around me men were silently getting dressed, lighting cigarettes or rubbing the weariness from their faces. None of us shaved.
Breakfast was a quick affair. The darkness enveloped me as I ate, finished getting dressed and grabbed all of my gear. As I boarded the truck to move us to the shore I heard a bird calling out a good-bye through the sound of the engines, men and machinery.
The drive through the countryside was bumpy. Most of the guys sat in silence or closed their eyes for a few moments of rest. A few bumped along with the red glow of their cigarettes illuminating their faces like dirty jack-o-lanterns suspended in the darkness.
All too soon I was climbing down from the truck, my joints cracking and my muscles angrily fighting against their use so early in the day. Then I saw it: line after line after line of grey-green men quickly moving in rhythmic cadence onto the waiting vessels, like snakes entering their dens.
Within moments I was rushing onto my ship and taking my place near the rear of the hold. The door was raised and clanged shut as the guys on the shore called out well wishes to us. As the engine revved to life, a priest leaned up and over the wall of the hold and holding a crucifix in his hand, we received his blessing.
As I cruised through the dark, choppy waters of the Channel that grey, misty morning, I was lost in my thoughts. I could see my childhood home with the big trees and the flowers in front that mom would plant every spring. I saw Main Street on the 4th of July, with all the red, white and blue bunting, the parade, and the children…laughing. Always laughing. I saw my high school sweetheart and felt her grasp my hand tenderly.
As we crested a wave I came back to reality. A bird flew over our heads, its black shape silhouetted against the increasingly grey-light sky. I smelled the breeze: salty, with a hint of…melancholy. I saw other guys vomiting as the sea began to take its toll. All I heard was the monotonous drone of the ship’s engine, carrying us forward to our destiny.
And then suddenly, like someone sneaking up behind you and screaming in your ear, the sound of artillery, the staccato of machine gun fire and the thud of explosions overtook the sound of the engine. The landing craft jerked to a stop, suspended between the ebb and flow of the crashing waves charging and then retreating from the beach around us. The door of the hold slammed down into the surf with a large splash and I was off, my training kicking in as my body moved on autopilot in one motion with the men around me.
As I jumped into the water the young guy beside me slipped off the side of the ramp and I saw a brief glimpse of him as he disappeared beneath a wave. I turned back to where I was heading, and the guy in front of me recoiled as a bullet tore through him and he splashed haphazardly into the surging froth. I lept over him and ran towards the shore line; my eyes fixed on a small huddle of men hunkered down behind a small sand dune.
Bullets and bombs whizzed past my body and the salty spray of the ocean stung my eyes as I madly dove to the relative safety of the dune. I caught my breath and looked back toward the sea and all I saw was carnage. Bodies, destroyed ships, barbed wire, blood—everywhere as far as the eye could see. I am sure I saw hell.
In what seemed like an instant, a sergeant was beside me screaming orders for those us around him. He jumped up from behind the dune, compelled us to follow and jumped over the dune towards certain death. Instinctively, I pulled myself up, let out a scream, and ran forward to meet Jesus.
How are you going to live a life of greatness today?
Dear Jesus, help me to live each day with my eyes fixed on You. No matter the cost or price, help me to be strong enough, brave enough, crazy enough, to follow You with everything in me. Amen.