Our son Will decided to go into the military his first year in high school. It came as a surprise to my wife and me because neither of us had much military service in our families. But we lived in a military town at the time so our first thought was that Will had been influenced by his surroundings. His true motivation turned out to be much deeper.
When he told us of his plans we came right back at him with the typical parental response: “Son, are you sure? That’s a dangerous profession. Don’t you want to do something less risky and more predictable with your life?”
He stopped our protests cold. “You’ve raised me to follow God’s direction,” he said. “This is what God is leading me to do and I have to do it.” When you raise your child to follow Jesus no matter what, and he tells you that his obedience requires him to go in a direction you’d never picked for him if it had been your decision, all you can do is pray and trust him to the Lord.
So we went through four years of high school with him as he prepared for West Point. Then four years of comings and goings as he went through the rigors of his education there. Two years of further training followed his graduation. All pointed to the single goal of defending the nation—a worthy goal embraced by so many other brave men and women.
Along the way we were blessed to see the man he became; the friends he made; and the experiences he had. Best of all, last fall he married a beautiful, charming and godly young woman. I’ve learned through my daughter-in-law as well as my daughter (who’s also married to an active duty military man) that it takes a special person to be married to someone in a time of war. Not everyone can live with the frequent and lengthy deployments that America’s military families have endured for the last couple of decades.
This week Will’s journey arrived at another milestone, one we’ve talked about ever since he first told us of his vocation. He deployed to Afghanistan. He and the other young men in his platoon got on planes along with the rest of his battalion and began the long flight taking them into the desperate and controversial war America has fought for more years than any other. Now that the end of the war is in sight—or at least the ending of our involvement in it—the stakes are even more urgent. Will and those he serves with, though, are ready to go. They’re well trained, well led, well equipped. This is what they signed up for.
Pam and I get that. Still, when we had our last conversation with Will before he left, it was hard. We talked through what he’d be doing. Where he’d be living. We joked and laughed. We asked what we could for his wife during his absence (not much, it turned out—as usual, the two of them had taken care of everything themselves). We stayed positive, for his sake. He stayed positive for ours. It was a conversation that every family member of someone serving in the military knows far too well. While we talked about lots of everyday things, the bottom line was that he was going to war.
I think it’s going to be a long year for us. But we’ll get through it. We’re confident in our son and the choices he’s made. His life—indeed, our whole family’s life—has been blessed every step of the way, and we’ll trust the Lord’s provision for us in this chapter. In the words of an old Irish blessing, we’ve lived in the shelter of each other. Now that our family has been extended with a new son-in-law and daughter-in-law we feel even more blessed.
Here are a few things Pam and are learning along the way, as Will goes off to war:
- You can’t control your children’s destinies. They have to work them out on their own.
- Military families go through unique pressures and they deserve all our respect.
- Prayer isn’t an option when your child (or spouse, sibling or parent) goes to war. It’s your lifeline.
- You don’t get over your fear while your child is at war but you have to learn not to let it control your life.
- Your extended family and friends love you more than you realize and their encouragement and support is invaluable.
- Faith is the environment in which you make decisions, negotiate life and deal with the good times and bad. I can’t imagine going through this without believing that God is in control of Will’s life.