In The Path of Irma

My brother, Phil, and his wife, Emily live in Tampa, Florida. Well, they live there six months of the year. He is retired military, Marine Corps and Army National Guard. My brother has always loved vehicles, diving, the military, and the ministry. So, allow me to amend my statement to include that he is also a retired United Methodist pastor.

20768235_1598600010159065_7740235817199451614_nTo further enhance the story, they live in a traveling parsonage, barracks and home known as an RV (Recreational Vehicle). It takes them all over the place in the six months they are not encamped at McDill Air Force Base in Tampa. While in Tampa, Phil is the lead retired Chaplain at the Family Camp and Emily plays the organ/piano/keyboard.

During the other six months of the year they 
travel around to visit all the family and see sites around the US. It is not uncommon for them to make the track from Tampa to Fort Bragg, to Greensboro, Madison and Mayodan, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, and just about anywhere they desire.

Right now they are fleeing Tampa with Irma on their heels. They left Thursday night heading for Perry, Florida and then on to Camp Benning in Columbus, Ga… really the Alabama side. So, he is heading up the highway driving this 70′ long barracks, with Emily in the car behind. One problem is that my brother is a diabetic who could pass out with a spike or drop in his sugar. Equipped with cell phones on the ready, they are hopefully moving toward a safe place, away from a wild, windy and wet place. Keep them in your prayers.

Our next door neighbor’s daughter and her husband live in Melbourne, Florida… close to the beach. They also have a business close by. They intend to ride out the storm in an elevated addition they built on to their home. I suspect they are putting on their game face for family, but I bet, deep down inside, they are a tad bit nervous – scared – petrified. Please pray for them, as well.

As you pray, I know you will include all the people of Florida, Texas… everyone in the wake and path of the storm. All of them need our prayers.

Back in the fall of 1965 our Marine Battalion was involved in what was known as the Caribbean Cruise. Don’t get excited… a cruise in the Marine Corps means the Navy is going to put us on ships, get us sea-sick and we are going to make landings on beaches, climb mountains with full gear in the 120 degree heat, and generally run around in the jungle acting like a bunch of teenagers – which we were. Some of our ports of call were the ABC islands; Aruba, Curaçao, and Bonaire… all belonging to the Netherlands. They were absolutely beautiful islands. We are finding out that some of the islands in this part of the Caribbean were hit hard by Irma a couple of days ago. Barbuda announced that it received 95% destruction to this low-elevation, flat island. I can’t even begin to imagine 95% of an island destroyed.

Finally, allow me to shout out a word of praise for a young man name Justin… a member of a church I served a few years ago. He is in college in South Florida. When the President of the University announced that all students must evacuate and take all possessions with them, my young friend is bringing eight friends with him back to the safety of his family in North Carolina. Didn’t have to do that, but that is the man he has become; an Eagle Scout, a college student, a friend, a Christian. That is second mile living. Thank you Justin for being you even in the path of a storm… and for the example of your faith you are daily living out.

Our prayers are with all of you. May God grant you safety in the midst of your storm, patience, gratitude and strength in the wake of whatever takes place.

Grace and Peace


Why Was I Spared?

Another Vietnam story: It was Easter Sunday 1968. I was a Marine machine gun team leader in Viet Nam. Our idea of celebrating Easter was to retake hill 881 for the fourth time. I remember it was a cold, wet morning as we moved into place at the bottom of the hill. As we traversed up the side of the hill mortar fire was directed toward us. I was about fifteenth in the column. The mortars hit about fifty feet in front of our point man. The next one hit our point man. The next one hit about seven men back in the column. The fourth one would have been in my lap. It didn’t come. Why? I have no idea. There were bullets whizzing through the grass next to our heads as we hugged the ground.

That afternoon, after the battle was over, we were all counting the cost. All around us were the dead NVA soldiers uncovered and disrespected. Back down the hill, in a neat row, respectfully covered were our men who had been killed.

I remember praying: “God, I have seen enough, I am ready to go home.” What an uneducated and presumptuous prayer. However, the next week I was wounded and airlifted to Japan. After a month in the 106 General Army Hospital and two months on Okinawa, I was sent back to the states. I later learned that many in my platoon were killed in a battle at “Happy Valley.” Why was I spared? I am sure those other guys were praying just like me. Some who died were within days of going home. It bothered me for years. I tried to put it out of my mind. It kept coming back. Even at Hinshaw Memorial UMC, in Greensboro back in the 90’s, there was a lady, Ruby Wall, who lost her son in that war. I could never be around her without having feelings of guilt. I came home but her son did not.

I wish I could tell you that the clouds opened up and God gave me the answer. Even to this day I still do not know why I was spared. However, in my prayer and devotional life, in seeing people live lives of faith and courage, I have come to know that there are some things I will never know…. Some things will remain a mystery. I have concluded that since I have been given this second, even a third life to use it the way God would have me use it – to give myself to God daily, that through me God may uplift the lives of those who need the touch of our heavenly Father. In the movie “Saving Private Ryan” Captain Miller was fatally wounded. Most of Miller’s men had also been killed. As Reiben sought aid for his dying captain, Miller’s last words to Ryan were, “James, earn this. Earn it.” I know I cannot earn God’s love, mercy and grace, but I can live in that grace in a grateful manner… realizing that I am still here and because I am, I should live in a more intentional and grace-filled way.

Dear God, help me to know that I will not know all the mysteries of faith. There will always be questions. Rather, help me to not let those questions keep me from being your disciple today and sharing your love and grace with those I meet. Help me to live by faith. Amen

Daily Devotions with Pastor Steve


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