Tag Archives: Justin Dale Peterson


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. 



Since childhood, I’ve been privileged to periodically visit Arlington National Cemetery (Arlington, VA), and for those experiences, I will be eternally grateful, because the foundation of respect and values established in the formative years of my life.

Because of my own parents’ values, they made certain that my siblings and I were exposed to the rich geography and history in America, which included numerous visits and vacations in Washington, D.C.  While I was energized many times by running up the stairs to the top of the Washington monument, and intrigued by the wonders of the Smithsonian Institute, I think I was most impacted and influenced by Arlington National Cemetery. 

Ralph, Hazel & Dale Peterson, circa 1954


As we walked in silence amongst the headstones, it was as though I could hear the silent shouts of those who had paid the ultimate price for the freedom that I enjoyed, but did not understand at that time.  Of course, there were no audible voices, but in my mind I imagined who these men and women had been in life, the circumstances of their deaths, and the loneliness of their families left behind. 

Visits to Arlington always included the solemn changing of the guard at the tomb of the Unknown Soldier where, in the 1950s and 1960s, when the reverent silence was only broken by the brief and staccato-like voices and crisp clinks of the guards and their boot heels and weapons.  Regrettably, these days there seems to be little reverence or respect, but rather constant movement and even boisterous voices throughout any audience that gathers. 

It’s at times like my last such experience at the Tomb of the Unknowns, which happened to be with my oldest son Justin, a USMC Captain, that I wonder if very many people grasp the significance of such moments and places anymore. 

On this Memorial Day 2011, it would behoove all Americans to set aside some time—at least a few minutes—to quietly but deliberately walk through a national cemetery, not just to see it, but to reflect on what is represented by those rather plain, uniform headstones.  Parents, you could use this holiday for one of the greatest lessons you ever teach your children by a one-hour visit, pointing out numerous lessons and explanations, answering questions, and most importantly exemplifying the respect due to America’s fallen who, by their service and sacrifice, have insured our freedom. 

On that last visit to Washington, my son Justin and his wife Patty took Debbie and me, along with their son Jayden, to the World War II memorial.  As we spoke in hushed tones about what we were seeing and thinking, Justin spotted a young lad, perhaps nine or ten years of age, climbing on one of the memorial’s walls.  As quickly as a flash of lighting, Justin was standing by the young boy, ordering him off the wall, and with the demeanor of a USMC drill instructor (sans the volume) let the unaccompanied minor know that was not proper behavior and that this was not a playground. 

Yep, I was proud of Justin—then and now. And I plan to make my annual Memorial Day stop at the Great Lakes National Cemetery in Holly (MI) for a time of reflection in Section 5 at Site 595.  Debbie and I will talk softly.  We will probably laugh quietly.  We will cry.  We will pause to gaze across the acres of graves on what was once the property of Mr. Bryson Dexter Horton, the inventor of the “Square D” electrical switch, and remind my precious wife Debbie that what we are seeing is “the price of freedom”—yours and mine—and paid for with the lives of the sons, daughters, fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters of those represented by each simple headstone.

Memorial Day at Arlington

Let’s not forget that represented also by each grave marker is an empty seat at dinner tables, a son or daughter whose parent will not teach them how to catch a baseball or swing a bat, a spouse who now bears the family burdens alone, and a parent whose dreams for their son or daughter now reside with honor and respect (as in my own case) in a section and site rather than on a street and in a city. 

Neither let us forget that for those who, like Justin, put their faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ, we who are alive and remain behind have an awesome hope and expectation—we expect to see our loved ones again and therefore do not sorrow because we lack hope. 

Although the world joked and laughed this past week when the prophecy of an unwise preacher who set dates and times for the rapture, I for one still anticipate that great event at any moment.  And since no one knows the day or the hour, I plan to live in such a manner as to be ready to catch up with my son—in a moment—in the twinkling of an eye!

BTW, do you pray?  If so, why not take this Memorial Day 2011 to exercise the discipline of prayer?  Thank God for the countless airmen, sailors, soldiers, and Marines who paid for your freedom?  Ask God to encourage and preserve those who serve, as well as their families who must make-do in their absence.  Appeal to the Lord on behalf of those who have an empty seat at their table, especially for those whose sacrificial experience is still fresh in their hearts and minds. 

And for all Gold Star families in Michigan, coming soon to a Michigan Secretary of State office near you will be a special Gold Star license plate.  Here’s a link to read about it: http://www.michigan.gov/sos/0,1607,7-127–256829–,00.html


Debbie & Dale Peterson


Five years ago today, my oldest son USMC Captain Justin D Peterson, deployed to Iraq, where six months later he was killed while returning from a mission.  This time of year will always be special in my mind, and I traditionally use “milestone moments” for introspection.  Justin’s deployment with a small border transition team is one of those times, in part because it is surrounded with other important family events.

 For example, Justin’s only daughter, Caitlin, was born on 6 April 2006, only hours before his deployment, which had already been pushed back allowing him to be present for her birth.  How could I ever forget that day, since Justin and Patty had been gracious enough to let me stay with them in the birthing suite at Huron Valley Hospital until I had to race to catch my flight to Great Britain?  Forty minutes after saying goodbye to Justin, who had left Patty long enough to walk my wife Debbie and me to the car, he called to say, “Well, Dad, Caitlin’s here!”

Patty and Caitlin Peterson

However, today as I reflect, I am not only recalling tender moments like the one that I have just described, but also realizing the quagmire in which America has sunk, especially relative to those brave men and women in uniform who hazard their lives to keep us safe, and to the families whose fathers or mothers make additional sacrifices in our stead.

As I write today, the “highest leaders” in our land are embroiled in a budgetary stalemate inside the Beltway, and in what has become their standard modus operandi, they play their political games on the backs of and at the expense of the very people they are charged constitutionally with leading. 

Not only does the “establishment” (which includes both Democrats and Republicans) continually operate in such a manner that our children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren will be laden with an unsustainable debt, they also are quite cautious to take steps to protect their own interests, salaries, and eternal benefits!  It’s time that every elected official at every level of government, especially Washington, D.C., throws himself or herself into a new caution—a caution to truly protect the populous whom they are to represent—even if it means throwing themselves on their own swords, as it were.

The latest political ploy—a government shutdown—appears to have little meaning to Washington.  Oh, I know—they trot themselves in front of cameras at every opportunity and talk—spewing a rhetoric that has worn terribly thin with the grassroots who pay not only their absorbent salary and benefit packages while they (in particular the Obama administration) are now threatening the meager paychecks of our troops and their families. 

Let me be clear—this gets personal, especially when I watch my five-year-old granddaughter blowing out her birthday candles, and I fight back the tears, realizing that this little girl will never know her daddy, other than the pictures and stories that others tell her.  Her mother and brothers are now being threatened with a cash flow shutdown by the very president that swore to uphold the constitution with a genuine concern for the people of this nation—including little girls whose daddies go off to fight for freedom!  

Maybe it would be a great idea for America to stop paying the people that we have elected to represent us in the House, Senate, and the White House until they establish a sustainable budget for each fiscal year.  And when they vote on bills for which they do not appropriate adequate funds, reduce their take-home pay by that same amount—in other words; let the fiscal irresponsibility be borne by the fiscally irresponsible people who fail at doing their jobs. 

Oh, and while we’re at it, why not scrap the special health care and retirement programs they all enjoy at this time and run them through the VA hospitals and Social Security?

Yes, as I reflect today, I’m very proud of my son Justin and his contribution to America.  However, I am ashamed of those men and women in Washington who, under a guise of caring about this great nation, are continually making choices and casting votes that are undermining this country and violating the very principles that lead to God’s blessings and the prosperity of our nation. 

And, just in case I have been too vague, that means that I am ashamed of much of what Barack Hussein Obama has done and is doing as my president.  The same is true for my Michigan Senators Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow. 

BTW, do you pray?  If so, would you join me in praying that somehow, by His miraculous working, God would so speak to the hearts and minds of those we have elected, that once again common sense, honesty, and truth would begin to prevail inside the Beltway, in state capitols, and in local municipalities? 

(Ezekiel 22:30 KJV) And I sought for a man among them, that should make up the hedge, and stand in the gap before me for the land, that I should not destroy it: but I found none. 

How desperately we should pray that, as God continually looks for such men and women today, He will find such a person—in Washington, in Michigan, and in my house!

Semper fi, troops!

Tough Times

All day long today, I’ve had Andy Williams’ song stuck in my heart—“It’s the most wonderful time of the year!”  I think most of us love this time of year.

But the holiday times of year can often be a tough time for a lot of people, and for a lot of reasons.  Just the other day, as most of my children and grandchildren gathered here at the Clarkston condo with Debbie and me for Thanksgiving dinner, I really missed my oldest son Justin, who was killed in Iraq.  But without the spirit of a grateful heart, I can imagine why so many people who miss their loved ones can slip into depression.

 I also think of friends, scattered around the world, who face health issues—a pastor friend in North Dakota (Scott Jordan), a missionary friend in Manila (Bob Woosley), and so many others.  Just a few days ago, I spent two hours with my long-time friend Roscoe Brewer near his home in Atlanta, who doctors are strongly encouraging to have chemo therapy for his cancer that has returned in various places throughout his body.  (The very thought of this makes me thankful for my own heart disease!) 

For others, some tragedy may strike—an automobile accident, a life-altering medical diagnosis, a layoff—making pain increasingly intense during the holidays.  I’ll never forget my friends Ron and Marilyn Sears’ Christmas experience years ago with the suicide of her brother who lived with them.  Our extended  family experienced horrific pain just before Christmas 1980 when my mother was killed by a drunk driver.

Perhaps more than any time in my life, God has given me a new awareness of the heartaches that His people bear, and I have determined that I will not waste my own pain, but will endeavor to be an encourager to those who are “passing through the Valley of Baca.”

Yesterday, I was privileged to return to First Baptist Church of Washington (MI) where my vocational ministry began in the dawning of the 1970s.  I met so many of the members who had purchased a copy of my book Leave a Well in the Valley when Pastor Ken Burdett hosted a book-signing.  Without exception, they told their stories of trials and burdens and storms and valleys—and each expressed a deep appreciation for the encouragement of Leave a Well in the Valley.  Most of them also shared how they had passed their copy along to others who also read the book and found hope as well.

Why not expand your own ministry this Christmas season and share this kind of hope with your friends, relatives, associates, and neighbors who are hurting or struggling.  Your purchase of a copy of Leave a Well in the Valley, given to them as a gift especially at this time of the year, will enhance your own ministry and together as partners, we both leave a legacy of encouragement and hope for others within the circle of our influence.

You can purchase Leave a Well in the Valley as a meaningful Christmas gift for those whom you love by going to www.dalepeterson.org (handled by PayPal). 

Your friendship, financial and prayer support for my ministry this year has been an encouragement to Debbie and me.  I trust that as you use Leave a Well in the Valley as a personal ministry tool, we can not only encourage your ministry, but together bless others!

BTW, do you pray?  If so, would you pray that God will use each copy of the book to truly bless, encourage, inspire, and strengthen those who read it?  Would you also pray that thousands of Christians will include this book as a “tool” that they regularly use as they minister to others?  Finally, would you pray for me as I write the small-group study guide next month that will soon be made available to churches to use with their small group ministries? 



Purchase your copy of Leave a Well in the Valley at www.dalepeterson.org 


(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

Don’t Forget to Remember

On Monday, 31 May 2010, many American’s will celebrate a national holiday, forgetting the true meaning or purpose of the day itself.  However, throughout this great nation, thousands upon thousands of families will remember—in fact, it’s impossible for us to forget, because buried in a cemetery somewhere is a casket that holds the remains of a loved one who paid the supreme sacrifice that we might be free. 

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

However, this day of remembrance must never be limited to a few moments of emotional energies spent merely missing  our friends and loved ones whose lives were cut short during their military service for our country.  We surely must contemplate a bigger picture and the grander scheme of the future looming before us.

For example, we must remember the principles and precepts that lead to the birth of this great nation.  As I write this, I’m seated in my hotel room in Enfield (CT).  In just a few hours, I will address an eternity-bound audience, reminding them, not only of America’s Fallen, but of the price that has been paid from the inception of America—as early as the 1620s.  The founders and the fallen so strongly believed in equality, self-governance, and the rule of law, that they were willing to pledge the lives, fortunes, and sacred honor—risking it all, sacrificing everything for freedom.  In so doing, they kept their honor.

America is a nation at-risk because we’re sluggish in remembering the critical ingredients that have made America great.  Few Americans will reflect any more than I on the people who have fallen—those for whom we have set aside this special day.  But we must remind ourselves that this American holiday is not only about remembering the personalities, but also the principles.

Here in Enfield (CT), two local high schools have scheduled graduation ceremonies in a local church facility that best accommodates  these events—parking, seating, staging, restrooms, etc.  However, the ACLU has filed suit, seeking an injunction, preventing the use of a church facility, with their usual insanity, crying “Separation of church and state!”  Somewhere along their educational track, they must have overlooked a few lessons from history class.

The first public school in America—the Boston Latin School—located only a few hours from Enfield (CT) in Boston (MA), was founded by Reverend John Cotton on April 23, 1635.  Five of the fifty-six signers of the American Constitution attended this school.  Can you imagine?  But the ACLU wasn’t around in those days to protest, threaten, intimidate, and file frivolously insane lawsuits, trying to protect young America’s students from religious symbols and the New England Primer and the Hornbook. 

But the insanity of this distorted thinking by a relative handful in America can only be exceeded by the insanity of good American citizens continually tolerating it!

Perhaps the great need of America today is not another “bailout” from Washington, D.C. but a revival of old-fashioned patriotism—a patriotic fervor built on critical personal ingredients, such as …

Great character.  The good character of leaders past will not suffice for today.  They have all run their leg of the relay race of life.  The baton has been placed into our hands, and we must boldly rise to the occasion, becoming internally what the Good Book instructs us to be, enabling us to do what people of good, godly character should do.

Great conviction.  It is high time that people who profess to know God determine to live like we actually know Him.  Like David of old, facing the giant Goliath against all odds, we must ask ourselves, “Is there not a cause?”  William Bradford thought so, but today’s history revisionists choke on his Mayflower Compact of 1620.  Barbara Fritchie thought there was a cause when she withstood Stonewall Jackson with those famous words, “Shoot if you must this old gray head, but spare your country’s flag,” she said!

Where are the men and women of modern America who are willing to stand, and having done all, stand?  Conviction is the bottom line of all my thinking.  It is what I have concluded as vitally important—important enough for which to live and die. 

Great courage.  Without character, we become dishonest and self-centered—which unfortunately and increasingly describes our country, including many of our “leaders.”  Without conviction, we lose our bearings—our moral compass.  Again, regrettably, this describes our nation—adrift morally.  And without courage, we fail to act on that which we profess to be and to believe.

In two short decades, America has gone from a nation with a president who could courageously say, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down that wall!” to one who apologizes for America to every rouge nation wherever he travels!  That makes those of us with good character, conviction, and courage rather nauseous!

As we approach this Memorial Day 2010, let’s concentrate on and honor our forefathers and the fighting men and women of this nation for their courage, their vision, and their sacrifices.  Let’s remember how precious our rights and freedoms!  Veterans, we honor your service, your courage, and your countless sacrifices at sea, in the air, and on distant fields of battle.  May God continue to bless the great nation, as we give Him reason for doing so.

BTW, do you pray?  America is in desperate need of the prayers of men, women, boys and girls who are on speaking terms with God to plead for the future of the nation we love.  May each of us be found faithful at our post in prayer!

Veterans Day 2009

There are three American holidays that are perhaps my favorites – 4th of July, Memorial Day, and Veterans Day.  For almost 30 years, I toured America with a special production in tribute to our nation and our veterans – A SALUTE TO AMERICA!   And while my thoughts always turn to the many veterans, both the deceased and the living, my thoughts primarily turn to my own son, USMC Captain Justin Dale Peterson, who the morning after his 32nd birthday, was killed in Iraq on Sunday, October 1, 2006. 

I had finished preaching that Sunday evening, October 1, 2006, IL, and was sitting with Pastor and Mrs. Bill Herald in a restaurant in Sparta (IL), waiting on our meal to arrive, when my phone vibrated.  It was my daughter-in-law Patty, asking where I was, if I was alone, and if I was driving. 

Patty said, “Dad, this is going to be a memorable night for you – Justin was killed in Iraq this morning!”  Within an hour, I had checked out of my room and was driving back to Michigan – heartbroken – mind racing. 

I pondered the possibilities of what had happened in Iraq.  I wondered if my youngest son Joshua, also a Marine and in Iraq – was okay.  Did he know yet?  How quickly could they extract him from harm’s way and head him home to share his tears with our own?

Within a few hours of receiving the worst news of his life, Joshua was transported to Kuwait to Amsterdam to Detroit, where our family met him.  Justin’s body arrived only a few hours later in the afternoon.  Our extended family spent the evening inter-acting at the funeral home – processing what was happening.

After receiving thousands of families at the visitation, and after a standing-room-only funeral, Justin’s body was laid to rest in the Great Lakes National Cemetery in Holly, Michigan – with military honors. 

On behalf of the entire Peterson family, I would like to express our gratitude to you as Americans for your concern, prayers, and support of our troops.  The personal contacts & many acts of kindness & service have been received with humility, as we realized in a new way the vast volume of friends that are ours!

These expressions have lead us to know beyond description that Justin’s life, military service, and death are not in vain.

While life has always presented challenges, I think we’ve faced the largest one to-date – in the death of our oldest son.  However, I must tell you – regardless of the indescribable pain that we feel, it is matched by a justifiable pride in our Marine, as well as an eternal hope. 

 Our son lived and died that others throughout the world might be free – even in Iraq.  He volunteered for a commission as an officer, as a leader, and as an example in the United States Marine Corp – how to live, how to work, how to serve, and even how to die.  To have known Captain Justin Dale Peterson, United States Marine – would make even a liberal skeptic proud to be an American. 

You see, ladies and gentlemen, America has been a blessed nation since our very inception because of the caliber and character of the men and women who have lead us!  Add to that the fact that God has been a part of this nation from before the beginning!  Our founding fathers put the name of God on everything they built and acknowledged Him in everything they said.

While there are a comparative few in our nation who seem to resent God being credited for His contribution to America’s greatness, most Americans still understand that respect and reverence for God is essential for maintaining greatness, since “all the nations that forget God shall be turned into hell,” according to the psalmist David.

Another reason that the United States of America has become such a great nation has been the deep commitment of our men and women in uniform.

While the decade of the 60s and the Vietnam era was a tempestuous time for American patriotism, and during which period many of our own citizens showed little respect for Old Glory, the WWII generation was still alive and well.  That generation of sailors and soldiers helped this nation keep her bearings and maintain a stabilizing effect on our culture.

For Americans of my parents generation, love of country has been almost second nature.  It was passed on to many of us by our parents, our teachers, our civic leaders, and even Hollywood.  I mean, you can’t get much more patriotic than John Wayne!

We continue to hold dear the quest of our founding fathers to produce a land where all men can live freely and seek personal satisfaction.  We fiercely appreciate the sacrifice of American servicemen and women who bled and died so that we could remain free.

Further, we live in the hope that the fires of American freedom will continue to burn long after we’re gone, don’t we?  If 9/11 does nothing else for us as a nation, it should have served as a clarion wake-up call for citizens to appreciate our freedoms that have often been taken for granted, and to renew our vigilance in defending them.

I’m not sure how you think about that American symbol that is known throughout the globe as the epitome of freedom, but my heart still swells with pride at the slightest glimpse of the Stars and Stripes – Old Glory!  While a growing number of people throughout the world may hold those colors – the red, white, and blue – in contempt, they must do so in sheer ignorance of the benefits they derive from America’s positive influence upon the world.

With the unprecedented rash of global terrorism – terrorism that has now come to American soil – I think it is high time that we had a revival of old-fashioned patriotism again, as well as a renewal of our commitment to the principles and precepts that have made this nation great from her inception!

Contrary to the incessant rhetoric of our detractors, Americans still enjoy the greatest freedoms of any nation on earth.  Compare what we enjoy in abundance with the pitiful existence of many nations who have not retained God in their knowledge, and you can understand that many of them are angry because we revel in that which they themselves cannot attain.

When our founding fathers signed the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776, they mutually pledged their lives, fortunes, and sacred honor, to each other and to America.  During the course of the seven-year war that followed, nine of the signers died of wounds or hardships, 17 lost everything they owned, and five were captured or imprisoned.  They risked all they had, sacrificing everything for freedom.  They all kept their honor.

Today, our nation is at war – a very different and non-traditional war against a very dangerous and elusive enemy from without.  We also must awaken to another reality – our greatest enemy may be from within our own ranks.  This enemy threatens the principles and values that freedom-loving people hold dear – equality, self-governance, and the rule of law.

President John F. Kennedy, in the midst of another struggle, once observed,  “When there is a visible enemy to fight in open combat, many serve, all applaud, and the tide of patriotism runs high.  But when there is a long, slow struggle, with no immediate visible foe, your choice will seem hard indeed.”

Today, our enemy is not always visible, for we wrestle not against flesh and blood alone, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places (Eph 6:12 KJV)  We must have patience and perseverance in this conflict to preserve our freedoms.

That will require that we as Americans, moreover as Christian Americans, that we rise to the occasion and the great need of America, and become once again a people of great character.  The good character of the founding fathers will not suffice.  We must boldly arise as men and women of faith and become internally what the Book instructs us to be.  Character is what I really am at the core of my being.

We must also become people of great conviction once again.  It is high time that the people who profess to know God determine to live like we know Him.  Like David of old, facing the giant Goliath, we must remind each other, “Is there not a cause?!”  Conviction is the bottom line of all my thinking – it’s what I have concluded as vitally important – important enough for which to die if necessary.

We must also become a nation of people with great courage.  Political correctness is no replacement for the combination of good character, great conviction, and great courage.  Without character, we become dishonest and self-centered, which unfortunately and increasingly describes our country, including many of our national leaders. 

 Without conviction, we lose our bearings, our moral compass, again descriptive of our nation – a country adrift morally.  Without courage, we fail to act on that which we profess to be and to believe.  America has gone from a president who could courageously say, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down that wall!” to one who apologizes for America to rouge nations wherever he travels!  And that makes those of us with good character, convictions and courage nauseous!

 (Jos 1:6 KJV)  Be strong and of a good courage: for unto this people shalt thou divide for an inheritance the land, which I sware unto their fathers to give them.

 Men like our first president George Washington, our first chief justice John Jay, and many others exhibited character, conviction, and courage from the beginning, as they secured for us a more perfect union.  The legions of courageous men of women of scripture and of our own national history are just that – history – and will not suffice for today.  Through the centuries they have all run their legs of the relay-race of life and today the baton has been placed into our hands.  We, like those who have run before us, must be strong and of good courage. 

  (Jos 1:9 KJV)  Have not I commanded thee? Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the LORD thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest.

 Viewing the landscape of modern culture, I must admit, there is cause for grave concern on every hand.  However, the visible ills of America’s political and financial dilemmas are only symptomatic of the invisible and increasing immorality of character that robs us of conviction and renders us shivering cowards, void of courage, before the world that needs the Savior that we claim to own.

 On this Veterans Day, let’s concentrate on and honor our forefathers and the fighting men and women of this nation for their courage, their vision, and their sacrifices.  Let’s remember how precious our rights and freedoms and those who have secured them for us!

 And veterans, we honor your service, your courage, your countless sacrifices at sea, in the air, and on distant fields of battle.  May God continue to bless this great nation, and the past, present, and future members of our Armed Forces and their families.

Remembering Justin

Thirty-five years ago this morning (much earlier than I’m writing this), I was making phone calls and pacing the corridor in front of the nursery at Crittenden Hospital in Rochester, Michigan.  I don’t remember his birth weight.  I don’t recall his length.  However, I can never forget him

To a father, the birth of a child is special, but the birth of a son is somehow extra-special.  And for thirty-two years, Justin Dale Peterson found a special place in the hearts of those who got to know him.  His impact was larger than life to many of us—so much so that our memories of him are almost as real as life itself—only he is not here in person.

For example, somewhere in the Philippine Islands, Bob and Susan Tevault serve as missionaries.  However, in the early 1980s they were serving as principal and elementary school teacher respectively at Paducah Christian Academy, the educational arm of the Broadway Baptist Church where I served as senior pastor.  Or somewhere in Heaven, Juanita Wagers, who in the first years of Justin’s life loved him in her home for eight hours each weekday as his mother worked.  Or right here in Southfield, Michigan, just like he was doing during Justin’s junior high and high school years, Dr. Ken Hall will occupy that office at Southfield Christian School.  Certainly he will never forget the impact that Justin, a regular visitor to his office, had amongst the school family.  (Notice that I haven’t claimed the impact to always be positive, although in the big picture, that impact certainly was!)

The list of people, places, and events the lives of others intersected with Justin’s are too varied and exhaustive to write about here and now—fellow students, soccer team members at every level of soccer from AYSO through Taylor University, neighbors, friends, and fellow Marines.  However, that influence was cut short three years ago tomorrow in a freak non-combat accident in the sands of Iraq, where Justin was serving on a border transition team. 

Hold that thought (about a life of influence being cut short), and let me ask a sobering question—one that I’m asking myself on this 35th birthday of my first son.  What impact and influence does my own life have, given the way I am currently living?  You see, any of our lives could be cut short—an accident, a sudden medical problem, or a terminal illness to which we succumb.  I know, I know, thinking about dying isn’t a pleasant thought on which to dwell.  However, since “it is appointed unto men once to die,” perhaps we would be wise to use various mile markers along the road of life to evaluate how we are spending the lives we have.

That being said, how are you spending your life?  What impact is your life having on other people within the circle of your influence?  Each of us certainly has a circle of influence—some larger, some smaller.  The question isn’t how large or small, but rather “What difference does my life make in the lives of those within the circle that is mine?”  Is it positive and wholesome and beneficial for others or is my life a negative influence that drains others and drags them down?

BTW, do you pray?  If so, would you pray that both you as the reader and I as the writer, and as our lives intersect in this cyber-moment of time, will make daily decisions that will augment the positive influence of our lives to the benefit of those around us for time and eternity?  Thanks for that momentary partnership in prayer!

And since you’re already praying, why not pray for my wonderful daughter-in-law Patty and Justin’s three children, Jared (9), Jayden (5), and Caitlin (3) … and Justin’s four siblings (Charity, Jordan, Joshua, and Joy) … and … well … you get the idea.

Well, I sure do miss my boy, especially today.  And I know that I’m certainly not the only one wiping tears, swallowing lumps in my throat, and remembering … and laughing.  (You see, if remembering Justin doesn’t make you laugh, you probably didn’t really know him!)  But I don’t intend to waste the pain and ponderings.  There are many things in life that we have to go through, but it’s always a choice whether we grow through them. 

Now, let’s go make a positive impact within our respective circles of influence while we have today!  Cheers!

Justin Dale Peterson 2006

Justin Dale Peterson 2006


When I returned to my office in Waterford yesterday, my “cup was full and overflowing.”  I have been blessed with five of the most wonderful children for which any parent could ever hope.  But the specific reason my “cup was full” yesterday was because of time spent with my daughter-in-law Patty.  My oldest son and her husband Justin was killed while serving in Iraq almost three years ago widow).  We had just spent seven of the most beautiful hours together. 

Captain Justin Peterson

Captain Justin Peterson

I had picked Patty up at her house at 6:00 in morning  and had driven to the residence of Michigan’s Governor Jennifer Granholm, where about 50 or so of us had breakfast.  This annual gathering is for the parents and spouses of Michigan’s Fallen Heroes.  If the conversation during the ride out to Lansing hadn’t already put us both into tears, the time with other Michigan families who have an empty seat at their table each meal did.

 As we drove away following the breakfast, I asked, “Well, Patty, what would you like to do next?”  “Well, Dad,” she replied, “(do you) want to drive out to Great Lakes National Cemetery?”  An hour or so later, we arrived at the ever-expanding national cemetery.  With groundskeepers putting the finishing touches on everything for Memorial Day Weekend, and with flags blowing in the breeze against a nearly cloudless sky, Patty and I stood beside Justin’s grave and talked, laughed, and cried together.  She shared with me things that I had never known before … things like how she had scattered the ashes of Zoe, Justin’s Rottweiler, in the snow above his grave after his ten-year old pet had to be put down … and how we both have these conversations when we’re there by ourselves as though Justin was listening to our every word (silly to some perhaps, but cathartic to us) … and how she wants just the two of us to drive out in Justin’s “dream machine” – a Jeep Wrangler (Michigan license plate “JDP2”) – with the top off and revisit his grave together sometime this summer.

Patty, Jayden & Caitlin at a Detroit Tigers game

Patty, Jayden & Caitlin at a Detroit Tigers game

 We had also planned to have lunch together that day too, so as we finally drove away from the cemetery, I asked, “So—what do you feel like eating for lunch?”  Patty looked over at me with a mischievous tinkle in her eye and grin on her face and exuberantly exclaimed, “I feel like Mac ‘n Cheese!”  Well, that could only mean one place—the Clarkston Union—Justin’s favorite restaurant in Clarkston, and his standard dish – macaroni and cheese!  For the next hour and thirty minutes we spent some of the greatest quality “father/daughter-in-law” time together that we’ve ever had – laughing, talking, crying, reminiscing, and philosophizing!  And in spite of our losses—she a husband and I a son—we again concluded that life must go on, even when it’s tough.

 And while I have my periodic moments of emotional meltdown, (because I still miss my boy), my pain surely must pale when compared to a young wife and mother who sacrificed her husband for the cause of freedom.  You see, ladies and gentlemen, all across this nation there are untold numbers of wives and mothers who today will be strong for their children, parents, friends, and neighbors, but tonight, when the kids are tucked into bed and are fast asleep, will close their bedroom doors, wonder how they’ll rear their children alone, worry over how to pay the bills, and cry themselves to sleep while clutching a pillow rather than the rock-hard body of their Marine.

Jayden's & Justin's boots

Jayden's & Justin's boots

 And surely, in a nation of 300 million people, I’m not the only grandpa who will set aside my morning’s work to babysit a little three-year-old girl whose daddy went off to war two days after she was born, but whose dad came home in a flag-draped coffin, and will forever be to her the stranger in the photographs and the voice on the recordings of children’s books left behind, lest daddy be forgotten. 

 My friends, don’t let your family forget what Memorial Day is all about.  Put a face on it for them each year.  And when you pray this weekend, include Patty, Jared, Jayden, and Caitlin Peterson in your prayers.  And by all means, thank the Lord for the men and women of the Armed Forces of the United States of America who sacrificed their lives for our freedom, as well for those families left behind who make the sacrifice daily as they awaken each morning to an empty pillow on the other half the bed, and empty seat at the table each meal, and an empty “hole” in their hearts 24/7.

"On behalf of ... a grateful nation ... "

"On behalf of ... a grateful nation ... "

Yet, in spite of the void in our lives, we have a responsibility to each other—as individual families and as Americans; therefore, we face forward and carry on.  Semper fi.


 Dale (JDP1)

Freedom Is Never Free

Freedom Is Never Free

Absentee Birthdays

It was as though Providence handed me a few minutes of sunshine in the midst of a rather dreary, rainy day here in Michigan.  Just for the twenty minutes that I visited the Great Lakes National Cemetery, it was like God tore a hole in the clouds so that He could watch to see what I might do or if I would share with Him the thoughts of my heart and mind.

I’ve only been there a few times … Memorial Days and Veterans Days … but for some reason unknown even to me, I felt compelled to drive out to the northern edge of Holly, Michigan, and spend a few minutes to respect and reflect on this 30th September.  Today, my oldest son Justin would have celebrated his 34th birthday had his life not been cut short by a freak accident in the sands of Anbar Province.

But standing there, reflecting, by that simple grave marker, I realized once again that my brief visits there are not so much about Justin … not so much about me … as they are about life.  You see, I can stand there, looking at the dates etched into that stone, and reflect on what once was … Or, I meditate as I pause there, considering the last three lines … “Loving husband, devoted father, brother & son,” and wonder what might have been …  Or, as what is normally the thought process for me, after considering those types of very personal things, I look around me at the sea of grave markers, and realize that a lot of dads and moms, brothers and sisters, sons and daughters will experience “absentee birthdays” each year.

To say to my friends and family, “I miss my boy” is an understatement of my heart.  But the great reality that we who still dwell in the land of the living must grapple is this – life goes on … and so must we.  We must look to the future, plan toward the future, anticipate with great expectation in the future.  And, BTW, a great future for you and me will not be ushered in by the politicians at any level of government, but when a citizenry of great character lives out the principles on which the United States of America was founded.

America’s men and women in uniform have been laying down their lives for a quarter of a millennium now … but we’ve become a nation, I fear, that has well-nigh lost sight of principle, and has become obsessed with an insatiable appetite for “prosperity,” a prosperity that is increasingly elusive … considering the current financial climate in America.  And as I considered the price paid by our veterans alone, I can only pray that the Lord would help me to do my part as a citizen, as a Christian, as a minister, to help bring our nation back from the brink of bankruptcy … not a financial bankruptcy, but a moral and spiritual bankruptcy.

BTW, do you pray?  If so, would you not use this moment to pause and ask the God of Glory to guide our national process through the leaders at all levels of government?  Coming into the November elections, we’re hearing a lot about change … from both parties.  It would be an awesome change if truth, rather than a distortion and pretense of truth, should come to prevail inside the beltway!

And while you’re praying, if you would, pray for the entire Dale Peterson clan over the next couple of weeks as we pass through the anniversary of Justin’s birth (30 September), death (01 October), and funeral (09 October).  Pray, too, for the many families around the country who also come to those emotionally-charged mile-markers along the road of their family life … those absentee birthdays.  We’d be grateful.