A WARRIOR’S STORY: THE MIRACLE OF A FORGIVEN LIFE.
Chaplain Al McGowen, BA, M.Div.
Chaplain, Lieutenant Colonel USAFR (Ret.)
VA Mental Health Chaplain (Ret.)
United Methodist Clergy (Ret.)
It has been a very long day today. Being the only full time Staff Chaplain on duty, I had more to do, and I was getting rather tired. I had spent more of my time with paperwork than I would like, as well as serving on our IDT’s (Interdisciplinary Teams.) Add to this the fact that our Hospice/Palliative Care Unit was experiencing WW2 Veterans declining and dying in large numbers. Yes, indeed, this has been a very long rewarding day for this Chaplain.
I had been told by one of our more inexperienced Chaplains that the “Psychiatrists do not want Chaplains on the Psychiatric Ward.” Being clinically trained, I doubted this very seriously, but being the “new kid on the block” I decided to not challenge the assumption; however, staying away from this ward kept me away from the very opportunities too which I am called.
Keep In Mind… God Changes Things.
As the day came to an end, (Or so I thought) the Secretary placed on my desk a consult from a Psychiatrist asking for a Chaplain to visit with a patient on the psychiatric ward. He (the Psychiatrist) knew the young Marine needed spiritual help.
(No names will be used to protect the privacy and identity of people.)
I responded to find a young man who had experienced the pure horror of war in Iraq several times. In other words, he had 7 tours of combat… 7 years of horror. On the last tour, this Marine was the “Gunny”…. NCO in charge of his troops. Sadly on this last tour, a 19 year old died in his arms. Gunny fully believed it was his responsibility to keep this 19 year old alive. This death was more than he could handle. When I met him, he made it clear that his God had failed him! Now he was on the Psychiatric Ward. He had been plagued by nightmares for 3 ½ years. His wife and he had separated, and he could not parent his children. He could NOT hold down a job. He had lost his sanity. He felt guilty, ashamed and completely overwhelmed by it all. He was experiencing full blown PTSD.
He cursed God that day “the kid” died, and he walked away from God. He hated God. He blamed God. He questioned God. The horrors of war had taken their toll. His upbringing in the United Methodist Church family did not help him or comfort him. It did however give us a foundation with which to work. His faith had been deconstructed. The challenge was to abide with him for as long as necessary and help him reconstruct what he had lost. I listened to his confessional until he stopped and asked me to help him make things right with God. He wanted God to forgive him. Surprisingly the guilt and shame he felt had little to do with all the people he had killed as a warrior. This was his “job,” he said, but the death of this young “kid” (as he called him) was his fault. He was experiencing a boat load of survivor guilt on top of everything else.
An Ancient Warrior Story Intersecting the Life of This Warrior
After a “whole lot of listening,” He and I began to have a back and forth conversation, with some good old fashioned story telling: We talked for a while about a man who ranked much higher than a Non Commissioned Officer. We talked about a Commander In Chief: Gunny did not know this story. As we continued, I told him about the warrior, David, who was a man after God’s own heart, and I told him about how David not only had a soldier die in his arms, he cheated on the man by taking his wife and impregnating her. Our conversation covered the whole story “with no holds barred.” Yes, we talked about how this Commander brought the soldier back from battle on furlough, in hopes he would sleep with his wife. We talked about how the commander had tried to cover up all he had done. We did not leave out the part where the soldier slept on his own doorstep because he would not feel right being so cozy with his beloved, while his buddies were in combat. We then talked about how the Commander set the soldier up to die by abandoning him on the battlefield.
With tears in Gunny’s eyes, we talked some more about the story of the one who had been traumatized by the ultimate battle for souls of all people, even Jesus. I asked him why he felt Jesus was traumatized like this. He gave his answer, and I then shared with him that Jesus took his punishment so that he could walk free from the Judgment he felt before the judge of the Universe. Gunny began to believe that Jesus understands his Post Traumatic Stress Disorder because Jesus had been traumatized as well… something he had not previously considered.
A light bulb seemed to come on in this young man’s soul who had felt so lost in the darkness. He then said, “I want to ask God to forgive me, but I do not know how.” My Marine wondered out loud, “Did God forgive David?” I opened a Bible and asked him to read how David prayed a prayer of confession. We looked together at Psalm 51. I invited my Marine to take a moment and look the confessional Psalm over and read it for himself. I invited him to make it his own. He began to read this ancient word out loud, and as he read, the Psalm became his prayer. This big strong young man began to weep. He wept for a long time, and he completed praying his prayer of confession. These words of confession became Gunny’s words of confession. He prayed through all the things he had confessed to me and all the things for which he was ashamed. The tears flowed down his cheeks, and when he was finished, he told me he knew God forgave him. PRAISE GOD! He now could forgive himself.
The Psychiatrist, who had asked for this Chaplain, was completely surprised at how this positively impacted this young man’s life. 3 ½ years of nightmares ceased that day. He left that ward a changed man. With the other scriptural tools and spiritual cognitive behavioral tools in hand, including a Bible, he also became stronger. Overtime, he reconciled with his wife, and he now is at home with his children as well. He also can now hold down a job. I followed him for 4 months and he moved away. He no longer is dominated by the spirit of fear. But he does possess power, love and a sound mind. He has found out the miracle of faith in The God who loves the world so much that He gave His only biological Son that whoever believes in Him will not perish but is forgiven and has eternal life. Yes indeed, it is tiring to have long days. BUT it is also rewarding…especially when you get to see the miracle of a forgiven life.