Three and a Half Hours Before Daylight

My knees were hurting today after a ruck earlier this week when I rucked and/or jogged several miles in combat boots. Young soldiers did it with no issues. I could hang with most of them but I paid for it later. My shins did not appreciate running in boots. They have ways of letting me know for the next three days. But today when the sun popped out and the clouds were burned away, and I had checked off some errands and done several quotidian things most folks engage in, I put on a pair of running shoes, but not to run, and certainly not in combat boots, but just to enjoy a leisurely walk for an hour or so—to be outdoors on a partly sunny day. It was quite warm  outside for December, even for GA, but nonetheless pleasant. 

     As I walked, I looked at the houses in the neighborhood where I’m currently residing. Many residents had erected inflatable Santa Claus figures in their yards and strung up lights on their shrubbery and homes. Most of the residents’ houses displayed a U.S. flag from a pole near each home’s main entrance. Many families were doing what I had done earlier in the day—returning from the grocery store or oil change station, or going out to run normal errands that come around quickly. 

     A few weekend runners and walkers were out, too, as were children. I saw twin girls, probably four or five-years old, riding their bicycles without training wheels. The girls shared the same curly brown hair and they both were in Christmas-time red and black and green pajamas. But their bicycles were pink, as were their helmets. Their dad was unpacking military gear from his gray Toyota 4Runner and watching his girls pedal down and back on the sidewalk that ran in front of their home.   

     An hour or so later, I was back at my place. I showered, ate a little snack, checked in with my wife, read some, got my thoughts together for what I’ll speak to soldiers about tomorrow as I’m given opportunity to minister to them. For this particular group I will be addressing, they are about halfway through a rigorous school. They are being tested physically, emotionally, and academically. 

     I’ve watched the class size go down daily since they arrived and began training. It has more than dawned on them that this training is for real, not some check-the-block tab/badge they get by mere talk. No, when I arrived this morning at 0400 to attend the safety brief for this morning’s run, the soldiers were already doing warmup PT (physical training). It was very humid and cool 

 this morning, so when the soldiers exhaled, their breath made clouds of mist in the early morning air under the lights in the PT pit. 

     I watched; I prayed; I felt my age and longed to be young again and not have knee pain, but I remembered to laugh at myself, too. I’m not special. I signed up. I love the pain at least in this sense: it reminds me of the hundreds of miles I’ve put in the countless pairs of now slick-soled boots, and running shoes, and of all the mornings when young soldiers like these are training when most of the world is still in bed for several hours.

It reminded me of one of my favorite books from N.D. Wilson where he writes thus:

“And from it all, from the compost of our errors, God brings glory—a world of ripe grain in the wind.

By His grace, we are the water made wine. We are the dust made flesh made dust made flesh again. We are the whore made brides and the thieves made saints and the killers made apostles. We are the dead made living.”

Yes and amen. 

1 N.D. Wilson, Death By Living, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2013), 167.

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