Bitter in the midst of sweet

I wrote this post in early October, but was not ready to post it at that time. Not sure even now, but I think it’s a topic that we need to consider, not just for my own family’s example, but for many families. There are a lot of families affected in similar ways. As we approach Veterans’ Day, maybe our veterans face a lot of issues that we are unaware of. It’s to bring attention to them, our veterans and their families, that I’m writing this.

The summer of 2021 was a summer of highs and lows for my husband and I, a summer of beauty and peace in contrast with times of deep emotional upheaval. Unusual and thought provoking. Through it all, I felt the Lord’s presence very much and despite the difficult days, I knew that the Lord was letting me know in unique ways that everything would be okay. One of my daughters got married in May in Europe (on Zoom!). Due to Covid restrictions, we had not met her husband except on video calls. They (and my other daughter) arrived in July for a visit just about the time my husband was diagnosed with lung cancer even though he has never smoked in his life. So, on some days, the sweetness of getting to know a new son-in-law, being able to spend some time again with our daughters, and visiting my 100 year old dad swept dark and worrying thoughts far from us until finally we got His message and realized that God does not want us to worry about this. Simply trust Him. It was actually an awesome experience to see (and feel) how God sprinkled beauty and sweetness throughout the summer all the while we were experiencing something that we all dread to hear. Because of His kindness, we can say truly that we are not wallowing in self pity, but are simply praying for healing and trusting the way He is leading us. Pray and trust. The title of this post is “Bitter in the midst of sweet,” because the sweet truly does override the bitter. God’s kindness really does make that possible.

My dear husband is a veteran and has always loved our country. He was proud to serve in the army during the Vietnam war even though he came to the realization while in Vietnam that he didn’t agree with that war. Through the years, he has unceasingly continued to love our country, display the flag and attend patriotic events.

He still feels this way in spite of the fact that his doctors who are treating him at the VA are blaming his condition on Agent Orange. He always told me that he was in a very safe place while in Vietnam and was not exposed to anything bad. So, after one of his appointments, I looked it up. The modern miracle of google gives us a lot of information and it soon became clear that his base in Vietnam was definitely sprayed just before he arrived there. I saw old photos of his base online and not a blade of grass, nothing living could be seen. It looked like a desert, just sand colored buildings in the sand. This is in the midst of a jungle, where previously had stood a lush forest of rubber trees. I understand that his condition could also have been exacerbated by breathing in other things in the years since his service, but the VA is placing the blame on Agent Orange.

When I think of this, I wonder why my government would spray its own soldiers. I found one quote from those days that said that it didn’t matter if we sprayed the Vietnamese because they were our enemies. Gosh, I hope our enemies don’t treat us with so little respect. What about being part of the human family? We should go even beyond respect since we know that Jesus told us to love our enemies. However, our government sprayed this toxin in South Vietnam and they also sprayed our own bases because it was convenient. The vegetation was in the way, an inconvenience, a nuisance. They knew even then that the dioxin in Agent Orange was poisonous.

As I discovered these facts, I also discovered other travesties that have happened over the years. The soldiers in Vietnam were not the only ones to be exposed to toxins while serving their country. In Camp Lejeune in North Carolina anyone on the base was exposed to toxins from the drinking water. This exposure lasted for over thirty years, from the 1950’s to the 1980’s. The contamination came from a dry cleaning company through spills and improper disposal of chemicals. Obviously the dry cleaning facility was at fault, but wasn’t the water on the base ever tested during those thirty years? How can such a situation continue for over thirty years?

Has it ended? Have we learned to prevent our soldiers from being exposed to lethal toxins? No, it continues on. Our soldiers are not only dying at the hands of our enemies, but also from continued exposure to toxins. It happened both in Iraq and Afghanistan. If anyone is reading from another country, I don’t think this problem is unique to the United States. Modern armies depend on weapons loaded with toxic chemicals.

Yesterday, I found this song done by The Piano Guys. They have dedicated it to families who sacrifice to preserve freedom. Thinking of our soldiers and the potential harm that they have been exposed to beyond the combat, I am feeling a kind of grief for them and I pray that they will be all right. I have seen many of them at the VA hospital and so many are in really rough shape. I am also praying that our government in the future will not bring a double dose of hazardous exposure on our boys’ heads. To send them into harms’ way is one thing, but to expose them further to poisonous toxins that could harm them years after their service is quite another. Bring Him Home (from Les Miserables) by The Piano Guys.

Bring them home, but bring them home safely. Our earth is not our enemy. We live on it. We breathe in its air. It gives us so much. Let’s treat it kindly no matter where we live. Pray for our soldiers. Treat them with respect. We don’t know what they have been through or what they may yet go through because of their service. As Veterans’ Day (formerly Armistice Day) approaches (11/11), let’s be grateful for our Veterans and pray for both them and their families. We can pray too that one day God will usher in His Kingdom where there will be no more wars.