Tag Archives: Justin Dale Peterson

Freedom … for you

Every Memorial Day weekend for decades has found me somewhere across our country, addressing audiences regarding the purpose of this hallowed time of remembrance.  Sunday, 27 May 2018 was no exception.  To my heart, spending time with Pastor Bill Herald, his wife Phylis, and their congregation had special meaning for this Gold Star dad.

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Although yesterday’s morning service was at First Baptist Church of Crystal Lake (IL), almost twelve years ago, on Sunday, 01 October 2006, I had also spoken for Pastor Herald at First Baptist Church of Sparta (IL).  You see, it was after the third service of the day that Bill, Phylis, and I were awaiting our late-evening meal at a local restaurant, when I received a phone call that would change my life.

My daughter-in-law Patty, after asking where I was, if I was alone, and if I was driving, broke the news to me that her husband—my oldest son Justin—had been killed that morning in Al Anbar Province, Iraq.  I will forego any attempt to describe the impact of that brief phone call.

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However, as I spoke to the wonderful congregation yesterday in Crystal Lake, there was an inexplicable chemistry in the auditorium as I spoke, but one that comes when an audience knows that the speaker really understands experientially the subject of his address.  Also, the day was special to my heart because I was sharing time yesterday with the two friends who were there for me when I received that devastating news.

As I’m composing this essay, another friend—an OR nurse from Commerce Township (MI) texted, asking “How do you separate your pride from your pain?”  My answer: “I think it’s inseparable on a day like this.”  Perhaps that harnesses the very purpose of Memorial Day—meditating on the pride in the shared values that have made America the greatest nation in human history as well as the painful price that has been paid.

Reality is this—one percent of Americans shoulder the responsibility of the military safety and security for the remaining 99%.  Some of the 99% will mistake Memorial Day as a time to celebrate freedom … and I understand.  However, that is the purpose of the 4th of July.

Others of the 99% will thank the men and women in uniform for their military service.  While that is well and good, that is the purpose of Veterans Day each 11 November … and I understand.  A few (and I hope it is no more than a few) may celebrate the holiday but forget altogether the sobering significance of this day.

However, on this day there are families across this land who truly understand that America should observe, not celebrate, Memorial Day.  They have no trouble remembering because they can never forget … and I understand.

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Neither our Fallen nor their Gold Star families want your pity or sympathy.  We want your respect, your remembrance, and your gratitude for the freedom you enjoy, purchased by so few to benefit so many and at such great cost.  Parents have been deprived of their offspring to make that purchase for you.

Lonely spouses embrace soft pillows at night rather than the rock-hard bodies of their life mate, crying themselves to fitful sleep—a price they paid for you.  Children graduated from kindergarten, high school, and college, but without a parent to cheer their accomplishment.  They did not ask to pay the price, but the price was still paid—for you.

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Patty and Caitlin Peterson

BTW, do you pray?  If so, wouldn’t today be an excellent time to press the ”Pause button” for a few minutes of your day, try to imagine the sacrifices of others—for you—and speak your gratitude to the ears of The Almighty God?  I know that the extended Peterson family would appreciate your remembrance of U.S. Marine Corps Captain Justin Dale Peterson.

Now … as soon as I hit the “Publish” button, I think my wife and I will fire up the red ’65 Cutlass and drive up to Great Lakes National Cemetery and express that gratitude in person.

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REMEMBER WHEN

One of my favorite Alan Jackson songs is the rather nostalgic Remember When. The lyrics reflect the years from the beginning of his marriage, the deaths of loved ones, learning from mistakes, and listening to the pitter-patter of their small children were small. The song also includes reflections of 30 seeming so old, but also a commitment to each other, when they grow old and gray, to be glad rather than sad, and thankful for the lives they had.

I like that song! Here’s a link to it, if you’d care to hear it before continuing to read, go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TTA2buWlNyM for a video.

This weekend is one of those times of year when I need to keep that kind of focus. Eleven years ago, on 30 September my oldest son, USMC Captain Justin Dale Peterson, turned 32 years old. There was no celebration as civilians might think of a birthday—Justin and his team were on a mission in Al Anbar Province, Iraq.

The next morning, while returning from that mission, 01 October 2006, Justin was killed. Suddenly, life was changed, disassembled, rearranged, indeed. But “the siblings,” as my children and their spouses referred to themselves, gave me a wonderful perspective by the examples they set for anyone who was listening or watching. They still do today.

Here it is: Like the song, they chose to focus on the life of Justin that they enjoyed together, rather than concentrating on the loss. Yes, believe me, the loss is always there, but our losses can be tempered by the joys of life—if we so choose.

So, this morning as I pulled on a pair of western boots, it was with the purpose of remembering when … and I can’t tell you how many times this morning I’ve smiled and laughed, even through tears. Even the boots I’m wearing tell something of a bigger story.

As a young boy, Justin was fond of his “cowboy boots,” and never drifted very far from them at any time. His two sons—Jared (JDP5) and Jayden (JDP6)—seem to have that DNA chromosome as well. The boots (pictured below) were left behind by Justin when he deployed to Iraq, and beside them is a pair of Jayden’s.

Jayden’s & Justin’s boots

Just a few days ago, Jayden’s mom Patty texted me a picture that brought laughter, pride, and tears rushing over me. For a part of his costume for Spirit Week at Oakland Christian School, Jayden slipped into this pair of his dad’s boots for the first time—and they fit!

I asked Patty, “Did the boots make him (referring to Jayden) walk pigeon-toed?” Those who knew Justin understand that comment. In fact, you may even have a “Justin story” or memory of your own. If so, his family and friends might like to hear it!

And, BTW, do you pray? If so, would you join the extended Peterson family today, tomorrow, and any other day that Justin comes to your mind, in a prayer of gratitude for his life? Although I still miss my boy, two things come to my mind: He touched a lot of lives, and his family surely loves him and is very thankful that we’ll be seeing him again!

Now, where did I put those Twizzlers????

Black Ice

Today, my oldest son Justin would be celebrating his 42nd birthday with us.  Although his life was cut short while deployed with the USMC in Iraq on 01 October 2006, the morning after his 32nd birthday, our family chooses to celebrate his life.

Sometimes, that’s easier said than done, but this morning, I woke up remembering a humorous event that took place some years earlier–although, it wasn’t so humorous to me when it happened.  Anyone who ever knew Justin Dale Peterson understands that humor was a part of who he is!

The end of Christmas break had come, the little red 1977 Ford Mustang (Justin’s first car) was packed to-the-max, and Justin and Patty were on the road again to Taylor University in Upland, Indiana.  Given that it was early January, the weather in Michigan was bitter cold, compounded by a blustery wind that dropped the wind chill factor to sub-zero.

After whispering a prayer for their safety as they made their journey back to college in rural Indiana, I continued my normal morning routine.  About an hour after their departure, my phone rang.  It was Justin, calling from a pay phone at a gas station at U.S.-23 and M-59.  He sheepishly told me that Patty and the Mustang were sitting in the middle of the median on U.S.-23, saying they had hit “black ice,” he’d lost control of the car, and they had come to a stop facing south between the north and south-bound ribbons of asphalt.

Seriously?!  With all the salt that Michigan throws down in the winter?!  It sounded like an excuse to me, since Justin had the reputation for horsing around most of the time.  Are a barrage of questions about the well-being of the two kids and the car, I instructed him to go back to his vehicle, make sure the exhaust/tail pipe was unobstructed, and to keep the car running so they could stay warm until I got to the scene.

Although I felt badly that Justin had to walk a half-mile to make the phone call, stand outside at the pay phone to talk, and walk a half-mile back to his car, I built up an emotional “head of steam” as I drove from Davisburg to Hartland—picturing in my mind how my oldest son may have been goofing off and caused this “accident.”

Justin and Patty knew me quite well, knew how I might react once I knew that they were physically okay, and apparently had discussed my likely reaction.

Sure enough, when I pulled my vehicle onto the southbound shoulder of the freeway, the little red Mustang was sitting in the middle of the median as though they had deliberately driven it there to park, with the engine running and the windows steamed.  Then again, the windows weren’t the only thing “steamed!”

After watching for a clearing in southbound traffic, and when there was a safe break in the stream of vehicles, I opened the door to the Dodge conversion van I was driving, stepped onto the pavement,  slammed the door, and headed across the highway.  The next thing I remember was picking myself up quickly from the road, as I continued toward the median!

Miraculously, Justin and Patty had straight faces by the time I reached their stranded vehicle, but I imagine that if there had been a “black box” recording the sounds inside that car as they observed my fall, it would not have been the sounds of silence, but hilarious laughter.  They also knew that I had just confirmed the “black ice” story, as well, so there would be no scolding from me!

There was another time when I discovered “black ice,” but that’s another story for another time!

BTW, do you pray?  If so, would you pray for Patty Harvey, Jared, Jayden, and Caitlin Peterson today?  Today would be a great time to support them with your prayers, because this can be a tough day.  Further, would you join us in thanking God for Justin’s life?  That boy brought a lot of joy, laughter, and pride to our lives as his family, and we are forever grateful for the 32 years we were together!

Semper fi, son!

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Forgotten? Never!

I drove out to Great Lakes National Cemetery today …

Normally, my wife Debbie and I do that on Memorial Day, but for some reason I couldn’t settle my thoughts while trying to write my Memorial Day blog, so I dropped the work on which I was unable to concentrate anyway, and made the drive—alone.  I thought perhaps that a blue sky, green grass, and solitude at grave marker 5-595 might help.

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Oh, that helped alright—helped break open a floodgate of memories, thoughts, and tears!  Then it hit me—that is really the whole meaning of Memorial Day each year!  Sadly, the true meaning is often lost in a sea of activities rather than being discovered—not to mention, appreciated from hearts overflowing with gratitude—by those who take the time to remember!

The mode of transportation today was my red 1965 Olds Cutlass.  Frankly, I thought Justin would appreciate that.  As I parked along the curb on the Avenue of Flags, with Justin’s grave off to my right, I shut the car off and just sat there—looking and thinking.

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Ahead of me some 400 yards were lines of automobiles, staged where all vehicles gather for funeral processions.  I reflected on how those families felt in those moments, remembering all-too-well the day I stepped from a black limousine with my family and made my way to my seat in a temporary pavilion.

The memory of numbly starring at a flag-draped casket a few feet in front of me seemed to me like instant replay as I contemplated the cars ahead of me today. I understand a bit of what they must be feeling as the drivers pull away, following the lead car.

DALE BEN AT GLNC 2006

Then I instinctively grabbed my cell phone from the seat, and after allowing a couple of vehicles to pass, I stepped from the car, and slowly made my way to 5-595.  While walking, I noticed how many markers have been added to section 5 since Justin’s marker was set.  In this one national cemetery alone an average of 11 fresh graves are dug and filled with someone’s loved ones every business day.

If you run those numbers, they add nearly 3000 veterans each year to this one location.  That totals some 30,000 new additions to Great Lakes National Cemetery since taps shattered my thoughts on 09 October 2006.

It’s no wild guess on my part—I know those families … no, that’s too abstract … those spouses and their children, those parents and grandparents, whose loved ones have been laid to rest in whatever cemetery, can’t forget on Memorial Day or any other day of the year!

Is it asking too much of a rather self-absorbed society to pause for a few minutes once each year—on Memorial Day—and remember and respect those who paid the ultimate price for our collective freedom?  I don’t think so—neither did the countless thousands of families dating back nearly to the Civil War—and neither does the 1% of America who shoulders the responsibility of defending our nation, so that the other 99% can enjoy the freedom which they provide.

BTW, do you pray?  If so, there is no better time than now, and no better day than Memorial Day, to spend at least a few minutes in prayer.  Every American, at the minimum, should express gratitude for those men and women who saw a cause bigger than themselves and that cause was you, me, and their posterity.  We owe a debt that we can never fully pay.

Everyone who lives under that beautiful red, white, and blue flag with its stars and stripes should also petition the Almighty—you know, the God in whom our Founding Fathers believed and Washington DC seems to have forgotten—that He would spare America and preserve the freedom purchased for us by those whose bodies rest in the dust from which each was created.

Then add to you prayer an appeal for strength for the families who have an empty seat at their tables—whether it has collected the dust of decades or is fresh with pain, as those friends and families in the processional earlier today.  At my grandson Jayden’s baseball game recently, his sister Caitlin ran up behind Debbie and me, with the exuberance of a ten-year-old who was excited to see Grandma Debbie and Papa Pete.

A moment later she gone, leaving me with a recurring and inescapable thought—there goes a little girl who will never know her daddy.  You see, she was only two days old when Justin deployed.  Think about it!  Freedom’s price tag is far greater than you can imagine.

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With that said, any people who mindlessly puts boating and barbecuing, picnics and parades, above remembrance of those who paid the price for freedom disgraces the country I love and those who died defending it.  However, even in America’s forgetfulness, comes the haunting biblical prediction of the characteristics of those living in “the last days”—unthankful!

May that never be truthfully said of you and me.  Let’s give ourselves this Memorial Day 2016 to gratitude and to expressing it appropriately … by reflecting and remembering.

Justin Dale Peterson 2006

Justin Dale Peterson 2006

I Do Solemnly Swear …

Veterans Day is that one special day when all America pauses in gratitude for and honor of those living men and women who have taken an oath to ” … support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.”

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While the young men and women who make this affirmation come from varied nationalities, differing socio-economic backgrounds, and religious experiences, but they all come together in this common oath.  The basic training provided by each branch of the United States military, the length of training, and certainly the MOS (military occupational service) training all vary, but all towards the fulfillment of a singular goal—the support and defense of the Constitution of the United States of America.

Although a growing number of politicians, from the president to congress, seems to have forgotten either the constitution or the oath they swore when taking office, the vast majority of the men and women of our armed forces—Air Force, Army, Coast Guard, Navy, and Marine Corps—put their very lives on the line daily.  These who have so seriously taken their oaths deserve the utmost of respect from all Americans.

BTW, do you pray?  If so, here are a couple of things about which you can pray.  First, after thinking quietly about whom these men and women are and what they do to make our freedom possible, thank God for them—from the young recruits to the most elderly veterans.  Second, ask God to sustain these troops and their families.

And to my own veteran son, USMC Sgt. Joshua D Peterson—you will never know how proud you and your older brother USMC Capt. Justin D Peterson have made your father, even at great cost.  Semper Fidelis!  The same can be said of my son-in-law USN Lt. Brandon Geddes!

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Celebrating Freedom with a Hero

Celebrating Freedom with a hero, Joe Hutchins 

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MEMORIAL DAY 2015

Although caller ID showed the call as “restricted,” with two sons deployed with the United States Marine Corps in Iraq, I knew that I must take the call that Sunday morning, 01 October 2006.

Like any Marine Corps communicator, my youngest son Joshua’s voice was commanding and to-the-point—“Don’t talk, Dad, just listen.  We’re going on our first mission, and I need you to pray, because we have already had one Marine fall this morning somewhere in Anbar Province.  I love you, Dad!”

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“I will pray.  I love you, son!” That was all I had time to say.  The sat phone went dead.  Immediately, I sat down and prayed in the Association apartment where I was staying in southern Illinois.  A few minutes later, I finished dressing for the day, drove to the church, and spoke three times to the congregation in Sparta, Illinois.

With services ended, Pastor & Mrs. Bill Herald and I had just ordered our late evening meal when my phone vibrated once again.  When I saw that it was my daughter-in-law Patty who was calling, I excused myself from the table and took the call that would change my life forever.

“Dad, where are you?  Are you alone?  Are you driving?”  My heart seemed to stop when Patty continued, “Dad, LtCol Hermann just left the house.  Justin was killed this morning in Iraq.”

On this Memorial Day weekend, many Americans will celebrate freedom—understandably.  However, that is the purpose for the 4th of July.  Other American families will thank men and women in uniform or those veterans who have previously served in one of the five branches of our military.  That is all well and good; however, that is the purpose of Veterans Day, 11 November each year.  Unfortunately, a few of our citizens will become so engrossed in their long holiday weekend of activities; they may forget altogether the significance of Memorial Day.

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However, scattered across this nation and around the globe are families who will always remember—who can never forget—that the purpose of Memorial Day is to gratefully remember those brave men and women who paid the ultimate price while they served.  In remembering them, we also remember the countless numbers of parents, siblings, spouses, children, and friends who also pay a price—some who are seated in this audience today.

Neither our fallen nor their families want your pity or sympathy.  We want your respect, your remembrance, and your gratitude for the freedom, purchased by so few, to benefit so many, and at such great cost.  Parents have been deprived of their offspring to make that purchase for you.  Lonely spouses embrace soft pillows at night, rather than the rock-hard bodies of their life mate, crying themselves to fitful sleep.

Most gut-wrenching of all, infants and small children will never know anything more of a parent who gave them life than what they will see in old pictures or the stories they hear from friends and relatives who remember.

"On behalf of ... a grateful nation," my daughter-in-law Patty

“On behalf of … a grateful nation,” my daughter-in-law Patty

If there was ever a people who were grateful, who remember, who keep perspective and care, it should be believer-citizens—Americans who know Christ as Savior—and make full proof of occasions such as Memorial Day to do so.  Whether it is the liberties we enjoy as citizens of this great nation or the liberation of the soul for all eternity, our freedom has been purchased vicariously for us by someone else.  Let us never forget.

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BTW, do you pray?  If so, why not pause this Memorial Day, reflect on those have secured your freedom, pray for those left behind, and express your gratitude heavenward for those who paid the ultimate price for freedom?

Let us forever remember.

Son and Grandson

Yep—here I sit in my DTW-Online Café “office,” and my mind is a whirl of thoughts … answering emails, scheduling meetings, booking flights … all the typical stuff.  However, my mind continues to default to thoughts about tomorrow.

Oh, these aren’t thoughts really of the details and meetings that are scattered from Manchester to Stafford (England).  No, they are thoughts of my grandson Jared.  Fifteen years ago tomorrow, my first grandchild was born back home in Michigan.

The mental gymnastics that spin in my mind are bittersweet though, since his father, my oldest son Justin, is not here to witness his son’s fantastic journey.  There is one thing for certain; Justin would be very proud of Jared.

Most times when Jared and I are together, I bite my tongue lest I weary him of comments about how much like Justin he is!  It has been that way since he was an infant.  There have been times when I was ambushed by my emotions when we have been together—a look in Jared’s eyes, his hands, some mannerism.

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I understand the DNA aspects and inherited physical characteristics, although I don’t grasp the differences in height and shoe size!  All that 5’ 9” Justin could muster was an 8.5 shoe, but his 6’ son is wearing a size 12!  Yet, beyond the physical are the personality characteristics—the wit, the sarcasm, and the list could continue.

Through the myriad of thoughts is the solid constant—Justin would be proud—very proud—of Jared as he turns 15 tomorrow.  Though Justin was not a hunter or fisherman, he was ever the athlete.  Jared not only captured the athletic genes from his dad, but added to those skills, hunting and fishing as well.

BTW, do you pray?  If so, would you join me in a brief prayer of gratitude for Jared and his family, and an extended time of prayer for all the kids across America who are growing up with the empty seat in their lives where a parent once sat?  The price of freedom is far greater than dollar signs reflect.  There is a silent price tag hanging in the hearts of children, teenagers, and adults—those who experience daily life without someone they would love to have with them every day!

The flight to Manchester is boarding, so I’ll leave you to pray.  Cheers!

Dale on Coronado (CA)

Dale on Coronado (CA)

Memorial Day 2014

The country music group Alabama, led by Randy from Fort Payne (AL), got it right in one of their old songs, “I’m in a Hurry.” Let me explain my meaning momentarily.

It’s still early morning on this Memorial Day 2014. My morning walk was quiet, sunny, and with no breeze to even stir the American flags hanging limply from several of the condominiums.

Adding to the solemnity of this day, was a small detail  to many people perhaps, but one that hits close to home to this guy—only a few of the colors were properly posted at half-mast. Yes, I understand this is a minute detail; however, I think it represents something larger, though subtle, in our current country and culture, that deserves consideration on this most solemn of American holidays.

Perhaps in the busy-ness of our lives, we take too little time to slow down (another song from another genre—“Slow down, you’re going too fast; we’ve got to make the morning last.”) and think—reflect on life–which leads me back to the Alabama song.

I’m in a hurry to get things done, Oh, I rush and rush until life’s no fun. All I really got to do is live and die, But I’m in a hurry and don’t know why.

Please don’t misunderstand—I’ve lived the majority of my adult life in a hurry, so this essay isn’t about perfect writing, hoping that imperfection will get it together! Quite the contrary—it’s about each of us taking time whenever possible to actually reflect on life and the things that really will matter in the end.

Yesterday, Debbie and I were at CrossRoads Church in Columbus (OH), where I performed my patriotic show SALUTE! for their Memorial Day weekend service. The program includes another country song that draws one to reflection—“Little Folks,” by Charlie Daniels. After walking the listener through childhood, the song conclude with these words:

Little folks slip through our hands like so many grains of sand; We’d best enjoy them while we can—so soon they slip away.

In the show, SALUTE!, the closing visual of that song is a photo of my oldest son Justin and I, walking across a public lawn in Washington DC, with then-one-year-old Jayden (Justin’s second son) between us, holding his dad’s and Papa Pete’s hands. That photo is always a personal reminder that life is fleeting. According to the Bible, life is a vapor that vanishes ever so quickly.

I have no clue what your plans for the day might be for this Memorial Day 2014. However, I hope you will take a few quiet moments somewhere along the trail to think. Think about the countless numbers of lives img050sacrificed for your freedom. One of those lives was my son Justin, a career Marine, but also a husband to Patty and a father to Jared, Jayden, and Caitlin.

BTW, do you pray? If so, while you’re meditating on the price tag of freedom, why not offer your gratitude to God of the freedom and manifold blessing that are ours as Americans? Perhaps you could appeal to the Lord, asking Him, the God of all comfort, to provide a special measure of comfort to those families who observe this somber holiday with an empty seat at their table.

Although Justin Dale Peterson (or JDP2, as he is affectionately known in the family) is missed beyond description by his extended family, it’s safe to say that we understand to some extent that this is the price of freedom. Freedom is not free.

Debbie & Dale Peterson

Debbie & Dale Peterson

ONE SOBERING SUNSHINY DAY

ONE SOBERING SUNSHINY DAY

Today was sort of a “Family day” for Debbie and me.  We set no alarm, but casually dressed for a leisurely day that began with a mid-morning breakfast in a small café in Clarkston, Michigan.  Soon after breakfast, we enjoyed the sunshine and hints of the changing colors of the trees as we drove the nearly restored 1965 Olds Cutlass up M-15 to our grandson Jayden’s football game.

After the Oakland Christian School Lancers’ 26-6 rout of their opponents, all family present dispersed only to gather a few miles away for a cookout with additional family joining us for food and laughter.  Watching the mannerisms of another grandson who found a special place in Papa Pete’s heart twelve years ago when he was born, I was once again reminded of how much like his late-father Jared is!

About mid-afternoon, Debbie, Jared and I headed toward Fenton to drop him off, before making another leisurely, brief, but very special visit at the Great Lakes National Cemetery in Holly (MI).  That’s always a sobering time for me personally, whether I make that stop alone or with my wife Debbie or my daughter-in-law Patty—the only two people with whom I’ve ever made the visit.

Today’s visit, although brief, was nonetheless sobering.

It was sobering to once again be reminded of the brevity and uncertainty of life.  No one lives forever.  We all know that.  Yet, we tend to be shocked when death knocks at the door of family or friends.  I was reminded that our times are in His hands.

It was sobering to think of the powerful influence that one young man had on his world in 32 short years.  My son Justin, killed in Iraq the morning after his 32nd birthday—which is tomorrow—left not only a legacy in the lives of three children, but also in the lives of family, friends, and an untold number of Marines.  I was reminded that we only have today, and we should make the most of it, spending it wisely.

It was sobering also to think of the hundreds of other families who have loved ones buried in that cemetery, as well as the national cemeteries scattered around the country that each of them loved and served.  Great Lakes National Cemetery is one of the newest veterans’ cemeteries, and I am always sobered by how quickly the number of white grave markers grows with each visit.

 

If these men and women were willing to die for our country, honoring their oaths to uphold and defend our constitution and country, why can’t our elected officials in Washington, DC at least be willing to live for it.  (But don’t get me started on that subject today!)

BTW, do you pray?  If so, would you pause for a few minutes to pray for our country?  Increasingly we are a country turning its back on the principles—biblical principles—we once embraced.  Whereas the Bible instructs that judgment must begin at the house of God, it behooves the people, who know God personally, to call on Him, repentantly and repeatedly, petitioning Him to draw America back to Him and to His principles in obedience.

ONE LIFE TOUCHES MANY OTHERS

It isn’t the longevity of his life that has arrested my attention today, but rather the impact that his life has made on the lives of others.  After all, Justin was only 32 years and one day old when his life came to an abrupt halt in the sands of Anbar Province, Iraq.

Yesterday—September 30, 2011—would have been my oldest son’s 37th birthday.  Today is the fifth anniversary of his death.  It’s always a tough time, but out of the sadness always comes numerous thoughts and blessings.  This has been true today as I have been traveling through New England with my best friend of 40-plus years, Dave Brown. 

Perhaps the prevailing thoughts are related to the impact that Justin’s life made on others.  For example, he always had a way of bringing excitement to our family.  Earlier today I saw a picture, taken at my daughter Charity’s house, as Justin and I were tossing his second son (Jayden) back and forth from 6-8 feet distance.  What pleasant memories!

In fact, Brandon and Charity’s great room in Ann Arbor (MI) was the scene of a lot of laughter and excitement—like on my youngest daughter Joy’s fifteenth birthday, as a contest raged between Justin and Joy over blowing out the candles—all meaningless stuff to others, except to “the siblings,” whose lives have been marvelously impacted by a brother who loved them. 

Although there were times—more than I remember—when he drove his father to the brink of insanity, his life continues to impact me, and I would like to think, making me a better man for it.  From his first “big wheel” to his last vehicle—a Jeep—Justin could destroy anything!  In that Jeep, he and I spent the better part of three days and nights together, driving from Twenty-nine Palms (CA) to Clarkston (MI) just before he deployed to Iraq.   I’ll value that time for the rest of my life!

The last time that Justin and I were together was at the hospital in Commerce Township (MI), just minutes before his daughter Caitlin was born.  Although his wife Patty was in the labor and delivery suite, they graciously allowed me to stay with them until I had to catch my flight to Great Britain.  Neither my wife Debbie nor I will ever forget Justin walking us to the door, saying his goodbyes, then racing back for the birth just 40 minutes later! 

Why bother to pass along such personal stories?  Because you also have a life—and your life should also be touching the lives of those around you in a positive and inspiring way! 

As I write this, I am sitting in the family room of my best friend’s house.  Dave’s daughter Angie was just here, and represents another person—beyond family—whose life was touched by Justin’s.  When the two of them were small children, our families were next-door neighbors, but the influence of those days continues.

BTW, do you pray?  If so, perhaps this would be a great time to consider your own influence in the lives of other people, and ask God to help you make it count.  Never discount the positive influence that you can have in the lives of others.  After all, even a word appropriately spoken at the right time is as valuable as “apples of gold!”

 

Dale’s book, Leave A Well in the Valley, can be purchased in soft cover at www.dalepeterson.org or a Kindle version at www.amazon.com.  In the book, Dale shares from deep personal experiences how one can not only survive the tough times in life, but also turn those tragedies into triumphs.