Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Grip Hands

No one attains success or satisfaction in life totally free of the contributions of others. No one can truly contribute to the benefit and well-being of society as an independent player. Throughout the years, I have been reminded over and over again of the blessings I have received from the input and contributions of others in my life and been continually humbled by how those who have helped me continue to stand by me in prayer, encouragement and love. One such individual with whom I’ve been able to reestablish contact through online social network is COL (ret.) Barry Willey. Barry came into my life when I started attending a Bible Study he taught at my then home church, the 82nd Airborne Division Memorial Chapel. He was teaching a study on Job, a study that had my undivided attention as my plans for a career as an Army Officer seemed improbable at best, and I was at a critical time of soul-searching and contemplation. Then Captain Barry Willey, came alongside me and joined a dedicated cadre of other godly men to encourage me, uphold me and challenge me not to wallow in self-pity, but to search out just what God might have in store for my life. Through Barry’s encouragement and with the blessing of the other brothers in our Chapel, I began to take on more leadership in our congregation and took steps that would eventually confirm God’s gifting in my life and lead me to vocational Christian Service as a Missionary and Pastor.

I caught glimpses of Barry over the years as he continued to serve the nation, overjoyed to see him on television as the US Military Spokesman for U.S. rescue and security operations in Haiti in 1994. We exchanged a few e-mails over the years, but intense involvement in our nation’s security on his part, and deep involvement in starting new ministries on mine, limited our interactions to short greetings and “attaboys”. Nevertheless, Barry was never far from my thoughts and remained in my prayers consistently. A while back, I took a chance to look him up on a social networking service. After a few false starts, we were finally able to get back into the groove of communicating. We began to recount what the Lord had been doing in each of our lives, and Barry shared that he had written a book about a friend and leader who had impacted him and countless others in a way that continued to make a difference even now. He encouraged me to read the book, and I was moved deeply by the story of Jon Shine. Here’s the review I wrote for the book much as it appears on

“Powerful and compelling, Barry Willey’s tribute to his friend and mentor Lieutenant Jon Shine, the book Out of the Valley stands tall as a monumental literary salute to the life of a good and godly man who in the brief span of 23 years left a spiritual legacy that continues to bear fruit more than 40 years after his death. Willey’s prose is crisp and forthright, chronicling the cadet, soldier and man of faith that was Jon Shine in an engrossing and easy to read manner. Shine’s story is both as comforting as an evening with a dear friend, and as jarring as a one’s arrival as a new recruit to the first day of military training. It is above all, inspiring – as a story of the eternal and unquenchable hope that exists between men sharing faith in the risen Christ and as a story of men bound together by love, duty and honor. It is also a practical work, complete with questions for reflection at the end of each chapter, allowing the reader to consider the spiritual truths and leadership principles that overflow in abundance from each chapter of Jon Shine’s life that is shared. If you’re searching for a compact, applicable and uplifting book that will leave you forever changed, you’ll find no finer work than Barry Willey’s Out of the Valley.”

As I’ve been reconnected to Barry and after reading his book, a phrase from the West Point song “The Corps” keeps coming to mind. This phrase symbolizes the active connection West Pointers maintain with each other as the “Long Gray Line” continues to grow as the years go by. It is the phase “Grip Hands”. It’s the phrase a friend and classmate used to call each of us to comfort one another as we heard reports of other classmates who had died in defense of the nation. It is a phrase that invokes images of care, encouragement and support through all the circumstances and situations of life. It is a phrase calls us beyond selfish living and calls us to an awareness that we have not become who we are by ourselves, and we cannot continue throughout our lives with only our own well-being in view. It is a phrase that clearly characterized Jon Shine’s life, and represents the truths Jon passed on to Barry Willey and others who in turn passed on those truths to me. With whom are you connecting for support, encouragement and care? To whom are you passing on the legacy of the lessons you have learned in your life? I challenge you today to reach out beyond yourself and commit yourself to be connected to others that you may reach higher heights in your own day and so that you can pass on a legacy of faith, truth, and love that will have an impact on generations yet to come. Grip hands!

Until Next time,


Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Taking Tests

“Stagger Desks!” Two words that can produce chills down the spine of anyone who has spent time in a classroom at the United States Military Academy at West Point! With that command, cadets begin to arrange their desks in preparation for rigorous intellectual testing that will expose their brilliance or ignorance regarding a particular area of academic focus. I remember the warm and welcoming feeling of confidence I felt in the humanities and language art classes that came rather easily for me, knowing that my testing would produce satisfying results and provide me with a maximum opportunity to excel! Unfortunately, I also remember the icy terror that gripped me in the torrential current of the Math and Science classes, as tests in those areas manifested my need for much improvement!

I am now grateful for all of those testing experiences, as they provided valuable life lessons for me in success and failure that continue to bear fruit in ways I could never have imagined during those cold, wintry days on the banks of the Hudson. Since that time, I have learned that every one faces tests all throughout life. We are all confronted with a lifetime series of trials, tribulations, dilemmas, difficulties and inconveniences that continually examine our character and indicate our level of faith, maturity and decency at various stages of our personal journeys. In my life as a minister, husband, father and adult son, I have faced and continue to face “real life” tests that have brought me to sometimes excruciating life junctions that either build up or tear down, depending on my reaction to the situation. Even as I share my thoughts this very moment, Luz and I are in the midst of a challenge involving the selling of our home that is testing the source of our confidence and the true foundation of our trust. This season of testing is reminding us in a new and wonderful way that our confidence and strength will never find adequacy within ourselves, but only in the Lord Who has made us and sustains us. The Early Church Leader James lays out the process and purpose of life testing and God’s desired response for us like this:

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:2-4).

I certainly would never have chosen most of the tests I have faced or the ones I now face for myself, but I am beginning to learn that I can positively choose my reaction to and negotiation of those tests as they come my way, knowing that I cannot mature and be all that God intends without them. Are you facing a critical test today? Remember testing is common to the human experience, and largely out of individual control. Your reaction to your test IS in your control. Remember that even the most withering trial can be an opportunity for the most glorious response if we choose to trust God’s working in our lives through it. With godly perspective in our times of trial, we can encourage, teach, model and lead through perseverance by faith in the Lord who is not only looking out for our interests as individuals, but desires for us as maturing individuals to minister to others who are hurting too! Be encouraged in your trial! Lift your eyes to the Lord in your time of testing! Let the Lord lead you through the School of Hard Knocks with honors! See the power of God at work in you and through you as you allow Him to use the tests in your life for your growth and the blessing and benefit of others. Until next time…