So yesterday I had the privilege of taking my 90 year old Dad to the VA Hospital at American Lake near Tacoma, WA. No worries, it was just for his regular visit with Dr. Allen and an annual visit with the lab. It’s what always seems to happen there that keeps me encouraged.
While waiting to see the lab techs, another vet walked in. We both said hi. He asked me, “How you doing?”
“Fine,” I answered. “And how are you,” I asked.
“I am blessed. I woke up this morning. For that I am grateful,” he replied.
He sat down. Some small talk took place. Then he began to share. I won’t give you the details. It would take too long. However, a few points are necessary for what’s coming next. His wife left him (he reported this with no anger or animosity). He lost his home in the settlement (again his attitude was one of “she needs it more than me”). He is currently homeless (but trying to get back on his feet). To say the least, I was moved.
While we continued chatting another vet walked in. He shuffled toward an empty chair to sit, but not before shaking all our hands and asking each of us personally, “And how are you doing?” After taking a seat, he breathed out deeply “Whew.”
The other vet asked, “So how about you? Hanging in there?”
“Trying,” the other said, “but I need another $40.00 by the end of the day for rent or I’m out for good.”
The first fella I was talking with quickly asked, “And are you positive your landlord will be satisfied with the $40.00?”
The other vet answered, “That’s what he told me. I think I can trust him.”
And out came the other vet’s wallet. I watched and observed. He pulled two twenty dollar bills…leaving what looked to be three ones behind. He reached across the small waiting room to offer the money to his fellow warrior. The other’s response? “No, I can’t do that. I know you need it just as much as I do.”
He was met with, “No, I insist. Please, I don’t mean to offend you, but you have a deadline.”
The other received the gift graciously. He then asked, “How do I repay you?”
The response was beautiful, “Pay it forward, brother, pay it forward.”
And then came church. We celebrated. The vet who received the gift quoted scripture. The one who gave responded, “Amen! You know He is good.”
I too said, “Amen.”
There was more testimony. The rejoicing continued.
Finally, a nurse came into the room. She said, “Mr. ______________. Is Mr. ______________ here?”
The vet who had received the gift stood. Without ceremony, he followed the nurse down the hall. The vet who gave the gift went back to filling out paper work. I read a brochure. My Dad sat quietly. A few moments later a lady asked “Mr. Brooks?” We stood up. We followed her to Dad’s exam room.
This seems to be a regular occurance for our trips to the VA Center. Last year, after returning home from a visit with Dad’s docs, I shared the following on Facebook (August 23, 2013):
Today was a lesson in the art of soft-spoken tender warrior-ese. While helping my 89 year old father at the VA Hospital, I was privileged to have a conversation with a highly decorated vet. 82nd Airborne. Ranger. Recondo. Pathfinder. Multiple combat deployments. There was no brag, just simple facts offered only because I asked. His voice was soft and gentle. His disposition indicated no pain or regret. He was well-spoken and equally polite. He had been waiting in line for over two hours and was still waiting when my Dad and I left. Both his words and his attitude said, “It was an honor and a privilege.” He was a man, sir, a man. Yes, his body was broken, mended, broken again, twisted, and mended yet again…at least as much as the Army Medical Core could fix…a six two frame reduced to a shadow of its youth, but a king-size heart bursting and filling the halls, waiting rooms, offices, and exam rooms of a soldier’s sanctuary. Thank you VA Hospital for a college level education in humanity by a professor of life, battle, and grace all in the space of a Friday morning.
I’ve been learning something through these visits. Adversity is usual. It’s common. It’s every day. You might just as well get used to it. It’s either already arrived or it’s on the way. However, that’s only half of what I’ve been seeing through the eyes of wounded warriors. The other half is far more spectacular. It’s one of those surprising antidotes that begins to sooth the pain of adversity. It’s called giving. Grace.
When adversity slaps us around, we sometimes need to go with it. Let the slap propel you. Let it turn you. Let it motivate you to come full circle. And as you come back around have your hand extended, not to receive, but to give. Hear that wounded warrior’s answer, “No, I insist. Please, I don’t mean to offend you, but you have a deadline.” Give yourself away…even if the giving also hurts.
No wonder our Lord Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).