Sunday, May 27, 2012

One Tile in History's Mosaic

Like many other Americans, my family has a rich military heritage full of real-life war stories.  My two grandfathers fought in WWII. My father served in Vietnam. Most recently, my brother served a tour in Iraq.  It is these stories that are precious to me, the ones not found in history books, those stories of comrades who were severely wounded or who died in battle, yet whose names hold no significance to most Americans.

And still, even with headliner names and places attached to them, all stories hold importance.  

By its very nature, a study of history is like a mosaic composed of smaller photographs.  History generally glosses over the smaller stories, gives a generic, almost sterile overview with dates and statistics.  In return, most people remember this larger design shown from a distance.  Yet, only when an individual steps closer does she see the small parts that form the whole.

In learning history as a bulleted list of events on a timeline, we don't feel it, make an emotional connection to it that is needed to really understand the impact war has on a nation of individuals.

For example, consider the statement "On July 9, 1755, the French and Indian War was raging in a fight over American soil."  A date + a fact + main characters = emotionless history, devoid of application.  Yet, when we look closer at a factual, yet individual, photograph of one of a young British officer and a band of Indian sharpshooters, history becomes personal and speaks a lesson in God's sovereignty.

In a fascinating collection entitled Under God, the authors speak of the French and Indian War.  As the battle progressed, the American Indians picked off one red-coated British officer after another until only one lieutenant colonel remained mounted high on horseback. Although Indian sharpshooters fired thirteen rounds of ammunition at him and shot two horses out from beneath him, this officer remained uninjured. That evening, he found four holes where bullets had pierced his coat yet had miraculously disappeared before piercing his body.

Several days after the battle in a letter to his brother, the officer wrote, “But by the all-powerful dispensations of Providence I have been protected beyond all human probability or expectation; for I had four bullets through my coat, and two horses shot under me yet escaped unhurt, although death was leveling my companions on every side of me!” This officer went on to become our first president, George Washington (Mac and Tait, 2004).

Seeing this snapshot of a larger historical event speaks of God's sovereignty over life and death.

Even though war, danger, and death are synonymous in many minds, no one is promised another moment beyond this one. Life and death are ordained by God. Our days are already numbered before we were born, and no man, no bullet, no bomb, no “accident” can shorten the days God has allotted each of us.

The psalmist David penned, “For You formed my inward parts; You wove me in my mother's womb….Your eyes have seen my unformed substance; And in Your book were all written The days that were ordained for me, When as yet there was not one of them” (Psalm 139:13,16). In other words, each individual's story is of equal importance to God.  He assembles us all to fulfill our role in history.

The Scripture also shows that, as the poet W.S. Merwin once said, every year, we pass the "anniversary of our death."

God intends to comfort us with the knowledge that a person’s life and a person's death are not random accidents but that He carefully orchestrates them both. We may not know the day or hour of an individual's birth and death, but God already does.

Each conception, each birth, each death were and are all on God’s calendar.

So many people are precious to us—parents, spouses, children, extended family, friends—all of whom we would probably choose to keep close by our side until we crossed over into eternity ourselves. Because we love them so much, each one of us could choose daily to live in fear of their death.

Three years ago, a woman recounted to my mother that her son was finally back from his one-year tour in Iraq, calling it the “worst year of her life.” My mom said she couldn’t relate. While she was concerned about and prayed for my brother’s safety in Iraq, she lived life without the daily, incapacitating worry. She trusted in Jesus’ words: “And who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life?” (Matthew 6:27).

Many of us still have family and friends who are serving overseas in Afghanistan, Iraq, and other countries around the globe. As we remember those who have served our country, I ask you to continue to pray for those who are still serving America.

Write to tell them of your love and support. Send a care package. But leave the worrying to God.

As Christians, we must rest in God’s sovereignty, in his ultimate control over everything, including life and death. The safest place for us to be is not in an underground bunker or in our own backyard.

No, the safest place for us to be is in the center of God’s will…even if that means being, like George Washington, in the center of a battlefield.

**For a special treat, click through the image from the Canadian Military Museums in Calgary, AB to see closeups of each tile.  The mural measures 12' x 20'.

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