(If you’re a family member, friend, or regular reader, you knew this blog was coming, so just stop now, get your box of tissues, and then continue reading!)
If you could spend time with airmen, sailors, soldiers, and Marines who are recipients of one or more Purple Hearts, one common denominator amongst them would be this—none would admit to being a “hero.” No matter how valiant they may have been in their own actions, each one would reserve the title of hero for those men and women who paid the ultimate price for the freedom that American citizens enjoy.
Today, my oldest son Justin would have celebrated his 36th birthday, had his life not been cut short by a freak accident in Al Anbar Province (Iraq) four years ago tomorrow. At least from our human perspective, it would appear that way, because we now can see only through “a glass darkly” (1 Cor 13:12). However, I anticipate seeing all things clearly one day. In that moment when my Commander-in-Chief (and I’m not talking Obama—not even close!) points to His perfect purpose and plan for the painful events of this life, even the death of our loved ones will make sense to us—then.
My best guess is this—until then, some things are just going to hurt a bit, and 30 September and 01 October are on my list, to be sure. Thankfully, our whole family has made adequate preparation for a grand family reunion, so we don’t sorrow unduly, as though we had no hope! But I digress …
With only 60 years under my belt to-date, I’ve lived long enough to out-live my parents by several years, at least by using the calendar for our measurement. I don’t know if it’s even possible to “out-live” many of my relatives if we use godly character as the standard. I try, but sometimes feel like I still fall short of being the man I ought to be or the man that my own father was—and he is one of my heroes.
Interestingly, my son Justin has also become a hero to me. Perhaps it’s because I’ve forgotten most of the antics he pulled growing up, but forgetting some things is a good thing; after all, our Heavenly Father has forgotten the antics, blunders, and sins that we have pulled! “Forgiven, I repeat, I’m forgiven!” as the 70s song said—and that means forgotten—and that’s a good thing.
But as I remember Justin interacting with his boys (during the little time they had together), I saw something in him that made me very proud of him. I cherish the pictures I carry in my mind of him wrestling with Jared or simply walking hand-in-hand with Jayden. Maybe it’s because I didn’t do enough of that as his dad during the early years.
Last Saturday, before leaving town to preach, I watched Jayden playing soccer in a YMCA league. After the game as Debbie and I said our goodbyes, I hugged Jayden and whispered to him how proud his dad would be of him for playing soccer so well (because soccer was always Justin’s game). Jayden instantly commented, “Papa Pete, I think he saw the whole game!” Great perspective for a fatherless six-year-old, I’d say.
Then because Debbie and I were leaving right from Jayden’s game, I hugged Caitlin, who was born only a few days before her dad deployed to Iraq, and apologized for not being able to attend her game later that afternoon, but the ever- cheery four-year-old replied, “That’s okay, Papa Pete! I understand!” It’s tough to explain to a little granddaughter how proud her daddy would be of her—and not “lose it!” And I cherish the few photos that I have of the two of them together—my hero and my granddaughter!
BTW, do you pray? If so, would you pray that via His infinite grace and perfect plan, God would do for the fatherless what they need? Would you pray for Patty as she rears the children without the mate that made them possible? Would you also pray for “the siblings” whose lives were made rich because of their brother Justin, and who try so hard to remember him by the laughter but have those moments when they must cry?–and for a mother whose birthday celebrations will always be tempered by the memory of her son’s funeral on the same day? Finally, would you pray that through it all, each of the Petersons would always find ways to turn our tragedy into triumph … to turn our buffeting into someone else’s blessing. We don’t want to waste the pain.
In 1971, my friend Gordon Jensen wrote the following song that has blessed my life immeasurably and inspired the book Leave a Well in the Valley which I recently authored. It describes how I intend to process life’s tough times.
To the valley you’ve been through those around you must go too
Down the rocky path you’ve traveled they will go
If to those learning of your trial you lend the secret of your smile
You will help them more than you will ever know
Blessed is the man who has learned to understand
To become a hand for God to those in need
Yes, then all the tears he’s shed with God’s help become instead
A precious balm that will heal the hearts that bleed
So leave a well in the valley—your dark and lonesome valley
Others have to cross this valley too
What a blessing when they find the well of joy you’ve left behind
So leave a well in the valley you go through
You see, there can be more heroes than those who die on distant fields of battle. Each of us can become a hero to someone else by living in such a manner so as to leave a lasting positive impact upon the people within the circle of our own influence. And since we have no promise of tomorrow, we must leave the legacy in the time we have—today.
And whenever you see a member of America’s military, take a moment to thank them for their service and your freedom!
One chapter in Dale’s recently released book Leave a Well in the Valley addresses the subject “When a Child Is Killed,” and could become a source of encouragement and strength to other parents who have experienced the death of a child. Leave a Well in the Valley may be purchased at www.dalepeterson.org.
God continue to bless you with that Peace, whose source is Him alone.
Well friend, I did indeed need the tissue box. I started out reading your post to my family…in the end they had to read it for themselves. We are so thankful for Justin and the other “Justins” of America.
Thanks for sharing your heart.
Such a wonderful tribute. You are such an inspiration to the rest of us.
I am so proud we are family