Don't judge a book...

  • Published
  • By Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Steven West
  • 509th Bomb Wing Chaplain
Imagine yourself walking out of the chapel next Sunday after a wonderful service of praise and worship. You decide to take your family out for a nice, relaxing Sunday dinner at your favorite restaurant. As you pull into the lot you realize finding a parking place is going to be a challenge. It appears the Baptist and Catholic churches down the street finished their service before ours. Thank God you notice someone pulling out and you quickly decide to grab their parking space. Perhaps your faithful church attendance earned you points with the Lord.

You pile out of the car and quickly proceed to the front door. Once inside you immediately scan the restaurant for any open seats. You spot two available tables; one is to your left, the other one is to your right. The open table on your right is between a family of four and what appears to be two elderly couples. The open table to your left is in the corner; however, the next two adjacent tables are crammed with male college students, sporting identical fraternity jerseys. Which side of the restaurant would you ask the waitress to seat you and your family? I encourage you to read the following while you consider your answer.

After being deployed and settling into a normal routine, one thing sticks out in your mind. The days begin to run together. I can't tell you the number of times I asked myself, what day is it? The life of a deployed military member consists of the same rituals: wake up, shower, eat, work, eat, work, eat, workout and go to bed. It's the same twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week for the duration of your tour. There are no weekends, holidays or vacations. An average day consists of at least twelve hours at work and often even more. Complacency becomes the norm and often one fails to comprehend the blessings God places in front of you. I'm no different than most people. I miss opportunities to minister and ignore the simplest of blessings which would change my day had I just been more attentive.

During my recent deployment to Balad Air Base, Iraq, one of those blessings presented itself at the dining facility. My Non-commissioned officer in charge and I had almost finished our breakfast and were enjoying the rare treat of a football game on ESPN. Except for one lone Airman, the two tables across the aisle from us were empty. That suited me just fine because I really wanted to hear the announcers. Being an early Sunday morning it was one of those rare occasions when the DFAC was relatively quiet. No better way to start a deployed day than with ESPN and a good breakfast! Maybe my faithfulness was earning me points with the Lord.

The peaceful morning was abruptly filled with chairs scrapping against the hard floor and weapons clanging as they dropped beside the chairs. As the soldiers took their seats they were laughing and talking way too much for those of us who desired to enjoy our breakfast in peace. I must admit the first thoughts entering my mind were not really very Christian at all. They were more along the line of why are they sitting here? There are plenty of tables further away from us. Furthermore, the Army has three DFAC's on their side of the complex, why are they invading our DFAC in mass?

Before you criticize me too quickly, which side of the restaurant did you choose for your family? How many of us would be thrilled to have over a dozen college age males coming in and sitting next to our family

I decided to try and focus on the TV. Maybe I could just block them out completely. After a few seconds I noticed that everything was quiet again. I looked across the aisle and witnessed a scene unfolding I hope I never forget. There, just a few feet from me sat this group of young, tough; war worn soldiers with their eyes closed and heads bowed. Not one of them was looking around and each one was either holding the hand or locking arms with the soldiers on each side of them. The silence was broken by the sound of one lone soldier lifting his voice in prayer. After him another soldier voiced a short prayer and then yet another. In unison they all offered a hearty Amen and began to devour their breakfast meals. I must say that at this point I felt about two inches tall.

Too many times we are quick to judge and form opinions before really giving people a chance. I am proud to stand beside and serve with the young men and women we call Airmen. I am reminded of what Paul told Timothy, "Don't let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity."

God often chooses to speak to people in a still, small voice, but for me it sometimes has to be a slap up side the head. Sometimes God has to get my attention first, before He can give me a blessing. I am thankful that He is patient and loving with me and understands I am a long term project.

We stopped before leaving the DFAC that morning and thanked those young men for sharing an unexpected blessing with us. My prayer is that God has planted a seed in my heart that will help me when I am tempted to be quick to judge others. Let's attempt to notice the little blessings in life, those normally insignificant moments that can actually make a difference in our day. Then in an attitude of thanks, share a blessing with someone else.

In closing; did you answer the question presented in my hypothetical situation? Is there any chance you might answer it differently now? If so, God may have truly shared another blessing with us today.