Discussions of Mormons and Mormon life, Book of Mormon issues and evidences, and other Latter-day Saint (LDS) topics.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

A Father on Loan


In the early 1950s, my father, a young man on a small farm who loved sports and fishing, was drafted out of his familiar mountain village and sent into the hellish ferocity of war. In this case, it was an undeclared no-win war, or technically a "police action" as it was called then. But the Korean War was war enough for anyone. He wasn't sure about God and religion when he left for this war. But he came back convinced that there must be some purpose to his life, and that Someone had helped him survive when he had no right to be alive. 

Seven times he had close calls where his survival seemed like extreme luck or something beyond luck alone. Responding to various promptings, for example, he would get up and leave an area, only to have it be blown up moments later with an incoming shell. Once a mortar shell landed in his foxhole, just inches from his back. He braced for death, but the shell proved to be a rare dud. A trickle of smoke rose from the hole in the soil it had made, but the blast never came. Through multiple experiences like these, he came to realize that somehow his life had been protected. He returned from the war beginning to believe in God, and deeply puzzled about why he had been spared so many times, when other good men would die. 

When he came home, he would learn that his mother had been pleading with the Lord to preserve his life, and had received what she felt was an inspired promise from a church leader she respected that his life would be spared. Of course, all mothers make these pleadings. Why he would be so fortunate, I do not know, but his fortune was my fortune, too, and I am so grateful. 

After he returned with his embryonic faith, the significance of his experiences made him conclude that God must have something for him to do, so he resolved to go on a mission, but it was very difficult. You cannot put a man or woman on the front lines of an artillery-based war or any other setting where one is constantly exposed to explosion, where one must constantly dive for cover with no notice, reacting to every sound as a matter of life and death—you cannot put a human through this for months on end without severely affecting the nervous system and the mind itself. For many, the damage is severe and often permanent. In his day, this was not understood and people just used terms like "shell shock" to describe the many problems that can be found under the modern term, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). 

I hate war. I hate what it does to people, both civilians and soldiers. I hate what it does to economies and cultures, landscapes and lives. I am pained that my good father and good men I know today in China were on opposite sides, trying to kill each other. My father tells me that one of the most troubling parts of his war experience was not just seeing many Americans and many Koreans die, but also seeing many Chinese people sacrifice their lives as they fought, often without adequate weapons and clothing, bravely throwing their bodies onto barbed wire or doing whatever they were ordered to do. He felt so sorry for them. That’s one thing that I respect about my father. While he was a fierce soldier, he hated bloodshed and felt sorry to see enemy lives lost.

As he began his mission, he was still a mess, often feeling panicked in small rooms or hitting the ground when he heard an unexpected sound. He received a priesthood blessing that he believed would help him, but the deliverance did not come right away. It came one month later, on the day he completed reading the Book of Mormon. As he finished the book, he was deeply touched by its power and message. He jumped up, holding the book in his hand, and said to his startled younger companion, “This thing is true!” It's a vivid memory for him and he still testifies, as I do, that that thing is true.

With that change in his spiritual life came an even more dramatic change in his temporal life: all symptoms of PTSD left him, as far as he can remember, on that day. It was a genuine miracle, in my opinion. He would lead a successful mission, applying the leadership skills he had developed in the battlefield as a leader of 50 men, and help bring many souls to Christ.

This miraculous deliverance from PTSD would last for over 50 years, finally returning recently after a recent heart attack caused permanent damage to his heart. Now he’s struggling again. But for over 50 years, he was whole,  on loan from God as my father. Thanks to this gift of deliverance, he would become a young father with the energy to run and play with me, his first child. He would take me fishing and camping, play Stratego and other games with me, sometimes trying hard to lose so I wouldn’t cry in my early days of game playing, and give me the love, time, and guidance I needed. I never realized until now what a miraculous blessing it was to have him. I never understood that he had cheated death and the ravages of war and had been loaned to me, a tender mercy that cannot be taken for granted in this complex world. 

I am so grateful for this gift that I had in my life. I pray that more young men, young women, children, elderly, everyone, might be delivered from war and senseless slaughter, and, when possible, experience the joys, the growth, and even the pains that come from serving others in the sacred roles of fathers and mothers. 

(Slightly updated and corrected on July 3, 2012. A related post with a little more detail and a different angle will be published soon at The Nauvoo Times.)

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

So, you were a cry baby?

Jeff Lindsay said...

Yep, an overly competitive one. Age 4 or 5 I can still remember the blurred vision that came from an abundance of tears the instant Dad accidentally captured my flag in Stratego. I was a better sport after that, I think, but I know I cried bitterly for a moment when I lost that game.

Proud Daughter of Eve said...

I'm glad you had your dad for all of those years and I'm sorry to hear what he's going through now.

Bookslinger said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jeff Lindsay said...

Thanks, Bookslinger, for kindly pointing out my typo. Yes, was early 1950s, not late. You were also kind to delete your own comment after I made the correction and before I got around to replying, but no need for such kind treatment. But you're a true gentleman. Thanks!

Melinda Porter Willden said...

That was a really touching post. I've gotten some extra spiritual help with my emotional problems so I can be a single mom. I hope they don't come back later though. It's nice to feel sane. You write about sensitive topics well. I found this article from your link at Nauvoo Times.