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I’m going to risk the vulnerability of opening a public window into my home for a candid discussion about a life-and-death struggle going on not just in mine, but thousands of families nationwide.
Both my sons have had to deal with the trauma of death, and the younger’s recent experience provides a snapshot of what the older is dealing with in a dramatically larger way. Before I give more detail, I must also share one of the most profound experiences of my life that occurred this week in Tomball, Texas, but has been duplicated in Main Street, America, by the hundreds.
Marine Cpl. Jeffrey Johnson returned from Iraq this week to his home in Tomball, but unlike my son, his return was to a grieving family and thousands of citizens lining the highway with flags and salutes for miles as the hearse carrying his flag-draped coffin passed by.
My family and I were at the small airport where the charter jet landed and, with a few hundred veterans holding flags at attention, watched as the Marine Honor Guard reverently took him from the plane to the hearse.
From there, we followed dozens of vehicles out and down the highway with tears streaming from our eyes watching, as I shared with my family, “a community standing for freedom” – old and young, men and women, veterans and civilians. I was struck not only by the rightful and appropriate recognition of this young man and his family’s sacrifice, but something else.
What about the sons (husbands, etc.) who came back “in one piece” physically but came back changed horribly inside where our eyes can’t see?
A recent Texas Monthly article titled “FearLess” cites reports that 10 to 20 percent of veterans returning from Afghanistan and Iraq are showing symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD. Most of those did not receive any physical wounds so appear to us as their families that they are “just fine.”
They are not.
In fact, one of the most common phrases heard from wives, parents, family and friends of these walking wounded is: “My (husband, son, father, etc.) came back a different person.” We know that every significant experience of life, particularly traumatic experiences, impact and “change” us. However, there is and always has been something dramatically different about the nature and intensity of combat-zone experience for some, but not all, obvious reasons.
My youngest son (age 12) works for a neighbor, helping on their horse ranch with various chores and as part of his duties sometimes drives their golf cart. The other day he drove out of the barn into a grassy area and didn’t see a tiny, newborn fawn lying hidden in the grass, running over it.
He brought it home, but it had already died, and he began sobbing with the trauma of taking this little life – a small animal – by accident. He will certainly grow through this life lesson and will be fine, but consider …
Take that trauma and multiply it exponentially when it involves human life, violence and repetition to get a glimpse of what my oldest son, a Marine Corps staff sergeant with two tours of combat, and his peers fighting for our freedom deal with.
According to Military Ministry’s “The Combat Trauma Healing Manual” used in training church mentors, leaders and family to minister to these veterans, just a few common symptoms include:
- Nightmares, night terrors;
- Unwanted daytime memories;
- Panic attacks;
- Avoidance/Physical reaction to anything that reminds them of event;
- Emotional numbness – “dead” inside;
- Anger, “short fuse,” fits of rage;
- Inability to trust others.
Needless to say, a man or woman who had never exhibited these characteristics but comes home to a grateful wife and children from war in such condition produces stunned inability of the family to understand or respond to who he or she now is.
Marriages, jobs, relationships of all kinds and even basic life functions can disintegrate without intervention and healing – particularly that which addresses the foundational spiritual chaos, guilt, betrayal and inability to “return to normal.” This is the new normal, and they will never be the same again, but they CAN be healed!
The MM manual quotes Dr. J. Vernon McGee as he declared, “Some people say that God is a crutch. God is not a crutch. He’s a whole dadgum hospital!” It goes on to say that “God has indeed ordained certain laws that will optimize your healing process … you need to know the laws and you need to obey the laws (which are) … your relationship with God and … giving Him optimal access to your wounded soul.”
I passionately plead with all parents and spouses of returning combat veterans not to assume he or she is OK, but the contrary. We can’t know what horrific memories and experience they carry like a concrete block strapped to their back, but we must care enough to let them know we care, that we want to understand, and they must be willing to let God, their loved ones, their churches and even the military support services lift them above the trauma.
Pastors, get busy and get people trained to meet this crisis that IS at your doorstep, as marriages, families and communities are terribly impacted by this.
As always, our loving God has an answer to the consequences of evil and sin if we will work with Him. The first step is becoming set free from the sin in our own heart and life by receiving Jesus Christ as our Savior and Lord. If that isn’t right, the rest is “on your own.”
Finally, MM confirms five elements crucial to the healing of our brave, wounded veterans:
- The Holy Spirit – your divine power source
- The Word of God – your divine food and weapon
- Prayer – vital communication with your divine commander
- The Christian Community – your divine Green Zone
- Your Mindset – your spiritual battlefield for divine healing
They deserve all we can do for them for all they have done for us.