A Battle for Peace

I wrote the following article after our son's first deployment, which turned out to be a war. It first appeared in P31 Woman magazine, and is dedicated to every mom and dad of a U.S. soldier.

A Battle for Peace

In March of 2003, America stood poised on the brink of war. I stood in the middle of our family room, tears welling. Transfixed, I watched with the rest of our country as history unfolded on live TV. Thousands of American soldiers prepared to invade Iraq. The U.S. Army’s 3rd Infantry Division was among the first of the troops to advance into Baghdad. My firstborn son rolled with them. As he prepared for combat, I engaged in a battle of my own.

Jason enlisted with the U.S. Army shortly after the September 11th attacks. His dad and I proudly sported a “My Son is Serving in the US Army” bumper sticker on our car. Yet a deep concern nagged my mind, and wishful thinking pestered me. “Why can’t our son just sell life insurance for a living?” I moaned. Now he was somewhere in the Iraqi desert, on the verge of war. At the time rumors flew claiming that Saddam Hussein had nuclear weapons. I literally became ill with fear, knowing that if the enemy dropped a single nuclear bomb the entire 3rd I.D. would be wiped out, and I would never see my boy again.

Prayer: My First Line of Defense

I’ve always thought of myself as a praying woman who trusts God. Yet I became engulfed in a gut wrenching assault on the trust I claimed to possess. My faith stretched as I struggled to maintain hope that our son would be alright. I truly wanted to believe that God would protect him. Though I prayed constantly, I’ve never felt more helpless. In the midst of a mother’s nightmare, I felt betrayed by my own heart and body. I quoted Psalm 56:3 to myself regularly. “When I am afraid, I will trust in you.” In reality, I qualified for much worse than merely afraid. I was flat-out, wobbly kneed terrified.

Thankfully, the Lord sent reinforcements. That Sunday at church, our senior pastor announced a time of special prayer for all the families with members currently serving in the military. My husband and I came forward with just one other family. We took turns announcing the current location of our sons. When the microphone came to me, I barely choked out the words, "Our son, Jason, is 50 miles south of Baghdad." A gasp rippled throughout the congregation. Those nine words echoed throughout the sanctuary and reverberated within my soul. After the corporate prayer, I gratefully took my seat. Yet the knots in my stomach stubbornly refused to leave.

The Battle Intensifies

Instead of feeling better after being prayed for, my emotions spiraled downwards. Necessary functions like eating and sleeping became a distinct impossibility. Guilt stung my heart when I indulged in a family meal or settled down into our comfortable bed at night. It just felt plain wrong to enjoy anything, knowing that our son faced life or death situations on a daily basis. I tried in vain not to imagine the worst.

As the invasion continued, more distressing rumors circulated: The soldiers’ MRE's (Meals Ready to Eat) and their rations of other supplies could not keep up with demand. In addition, the news constantly displayed footage of a raging sandstorm which assaulted our troops for several days. Reports even claimed that the soldiers’ toilet paper supply disappeared completely. My stress level kicked up several notches. At this rate, I would collapse before the war ended. I frantically wondered why I couldn’t sense the Lord’s presence in the midst of this turmoil. Why was I having such a hard time trusting Him?

A Turning Point

On the evening of the 10th day of Operation Iraqi Freedom, my husband Keith and our son, Joshua, left to run errands. I stayed home with Emily, our daughter, and we began to tidy up after dinner. As I stood in front of the kitchen sink, I literally felt that I could not go on. Ten days without much sleep or food will do that to a person. Clearly I had transformed into a stressed out basket case. Something eventually had to give.

I grew increasingly desperate to know that our son was going to be alright. I physically craved peace. Somehow, I needed to radically trust God and find peace in the midst of this storm. A scripture flashed into my mind, and I realized that I needed to put on “…a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.” (Isaiah 61:3) But could I immerse myself in praise at a time like this?

A Secret Weapon: Praise

Like the desperate woman reaching out to touch the hem of Jesus’ garment, (Mark 5: 27,-28) I grew determined to press past my circumstance and touch the Lord. I knew that God alone possessed the ability to grant me the peace I so desperately desired. Wiping my hands on a dishtowel, I slung it over my shoulder and headed into our family room towards the stereo. I turned on a Praise & Worship C.D and cranked up the volume. Soon, that red checkered dishtowel became airborne. I started swinging it around, singing and dancing throughout the family room. If dancing around my house with a dishtowel was what it took, then so be it. I did, however, close my curtains, lest the neighbors think I’d gone off the deep end.

Seeing my example, Emily raced into the kitchen and got a dish towel of her own. Together the two of us sang and danced and praised God, waving our colorful dishtowel banners all over the place. Before I knew it, God’s presence absolutely flooded the room. Suddenly, joy and laughter erupted out of me. I was astonished. I wave dishtowels, and God shows up? My surprise swiftly turned to gratefulness. After ten miserable, dread-filled days, I literally began to live out the scripture “I am overcome with joy because of Your unfailing love, for You have seen my troubles, and You care about the anguish of my soul.”(Psalm 31:7)

I perceived the Lord's reassurance as He mercifully placed His promise deep within my heart. At that precise moment, God assured me that He controlled our son's destiny. Overwhelming peace washed over me, completely displacing anxiety and fear. The struggle to trust God disappeared entirely and I joyfully surrendered Jason into the Lord's capable, loving hands.

My dish towel worship experience turned out to be a major breakthrough. From that point on, my appetite immediately returned to normal. I also slept remarkably well. And I never again (not even once!) worried about our son during the rest of his lengthy time in Iraq.

An Answered Prayer

Throughout the 15 months that Jason spent “over there”, I drew near to God and He drew near to me (see James 4:8). As I continued to make time in worship and prayer a priority, God faithfully sustained me.

Our family celebrated when Jason finally returned home from Iraq later that summer. We learned that on the very first day of the war, he broke his left arm as he rode in one of the tanks. Unable to stop for medical help, and in spite of the pain, my left-handed son managed to get through those harrowing first few weeks of the war. In the end, God answered our prayers and brought our soldier home safely. And this grateful mom learned the priceless value of God’s peace in the midst of the battle.


Kelly said...

I loved this story, Julie. Thank you for sharing it again. And THANK YOU to your son.

My husband is a Vietnam Vet and a USMA graduate. We are proud of our military.

Julie Gillies said...

Kelly - please tell your hubby thank you, from one military family to another.

Jill Beran said...

Thank you for sharing the story. I haven't experienced anything of the sort, but feel in the midst of a battle myself and loved your words about praise. It is a choice. THank you and pass the gratitude to your son as well. Blessings, Jill

Gwen Stewart said...

God bless your son, Julie, and please do thank him on my behalf for his brave and honorable service to this great nation.

As always, your writing pulls at the soul. Thank you for sharing it, and may the God who adores dishtowel worship bless you richly this week!

Andrea said...

Julie,I am so touched by your beautiful story and powerful testimony! You yourself are a storm trooper!

May God bless you and your family, and yes, please give thanks to your son for his bravery and faithfulness to our country.

I hope your Memorial Day has been very bright and blessed.


Angela said...

I too must say Thanks- and pass that a long! We families outside of the military, have no idea how big the sacrifice is!

KelliGirl said...

I loved this story the first time I read it...and still do. Thank you for sharing your God-given and God-inspired ability to write so powerfully and eloquently.

God bless your son for being a modern-day hero.

Hope you had a happy Memorial Day weekend.

Love and prayers,

Melinda said...

Love this article, Julie ... Thanks for the sacrifices you and your family make for our country.

Melanie said...

This brought tears! I'm linking it to my curren post "A Praising Woman."

Billy Coffey said...

Simply amazing, Julie. There is so much talk, and rightfully so, of the sacrifice our men and women in uniform must make on a daily basis. There is too little said about the families they leave behind.

Bless you and bless your son.

Ginny said...

julie, this was my first visit to your blog. You brought me to tears, because your words are a confirmation that I am to praise the Lord in All things the good, the bad, and the ugly. Thank you for your beautiful post.

Karen said...

I loved this story from the first time I read it. I can remember and feel those emotions when my son was deployed.

God Bless you and your family,

Rachel Beran said...

Julie, just read this post today. WOW! This was my first time reading this and it really touched me. I especially appreciated the words on Praise. Thanks for sharing.

Terri Tiffany said...

Julie, This was a wonderful story that I relate to in another battle I am going through--that of my husband losing his job and hanging onto our faith that God will see us through.

I am overcome with joy because of Your unfailing love, for You have seen my troubles, and You care about the anguish of my soul.”(Psalm 31:7)

I love this verse--thank you for sharing with me. I will think of you and the kitchen towels often!

Susan said...

Wow, I felt like you were writing MY story!

My first born is a Jason and he was deployed in Afghanistan!

What a year that was in my life!

I've also had to deal with a 16 year old with brain cancer.

Both of my boys are doing great.

God was faithful, and I like you learned to praise Him in the dark.

I found my breakthrough there as well.

So nice to meet you♥

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