If you know me, you know that I'm a bit of a birth junkie. What you may not know is that over the past couple of years, I have developed a slight obsession with the Civil War. As it turns out, one friend in particular can be blamed for both obsessions.
When Callum was a few months old and I was wondering how on earth people did this whole parent-of-two-kids thing without losing their minds, I looked around and saw a woman in my church who had two great kids AND a job. Not only did she have any ol' job, but she was actually a doula. Having been through birth twice now, I knew that doula work was no joke. So - two kids, a demanding and admirable profession, and she didn't seem crazy, so I figured she must be doing something right. I asked her for a coffee date to try to see if she would share her how-to-keep-it-together secrets. Maria's response caught me off guard, when she said, "Oh, You caught the bug didn't you?" The "bug" that she was identifying and calling out in me was "the birth bug."
There I stood, thinking I was just signing up for coffee, but Maria saw something more. She didn't know that at the time Frank and I were going though a sabbatical from organized ministry in order to try to figure out our future direction. I didn't know that the future direction was going to be as a birth doula and educator, but Maria called it and she was right. So not only did a get a coffee date and a wonderful friend as a result of that conversation, but I ended up with a tremendous mentor who has helped build a profession that works both as ministry tool and a tent-making opportunity. All around win!
So, back to the Civil War. Maria is also totally to blame for my Civil War obsession. Well, maybe she shares the blame 50-50 with her husband Adam. Maria and Adam invited our family to camp with them two summers back, and the location they had chosen was Gettysburg. Despite having once stayed overnight smack in the middle of the city, In a hotel that I later found out was built where hundreds had battled and died, I really knew little to nothing about the history.
Our first summer camping there I was intrigued, and even came home and added a dozen or so Gettysburg documentaries onto our Netlix queue. It turns out that I never watched one, but after a second trip back to camp at Gettysburg this past summer, I saw my intrigue through. After the kids were asleep, I watched animated maps of the battle on my phone. I drug my family to the diorama where I first saw a to-scale model that helped me to understand how all of the pieces and scenes fit together. We took a family picture on Little Round Top, which has remained my phone's home screen ever since.
As I began to comprehend the scope of the battle's death toll , the weightiness of an infant nation killing its own brothers and amazingly, the ability of this young nation to come back together afterward, both my mind and heart began to engage with the stories and the land in a way I couldn't set aside.
One story in particular stayed with me in the weeks following this past summer's camping trip. Overlooking the land where the final day of the battle was fought, there was a historical marker that told the story of Confederate Lt. Thomas C. Holland who was struck with a bullet that entered through his cheek and exited though the back of his head. Care that he received at a nearby Union field hospital preserved his life, and gave him the opportunity to return to the battlefield 50 years later at a commemorative gathering. It was then and there that he met and shook the hand of the Union soldier who had shot him.
He was shot in the cheek. Later he shook the hand that cased the wound.
Maybe you missed that.
Shot. In. The. Cheek.
Shook. The. Hand.
So, despite the horrendous death toll, the horrible shame that we ourselves caused more American deaths in the Civil War than any other war our nation has fought against a foreign enemy, the thing that impacts me most profoundly is that we found a way to be one nation again afterward.
It's really easy for me to imagine the two armies as a young married couple. It started out as them against the world (--- well, at least against the British.) After a Four Score honeymoon period, differences emerge. One half of the couple wants out. Whether you suppose it's because of pride, controllingness or good intentions, the other refuses to give up on their union. So they battle it out. And they hurt each other more than anyone else has ever hurt them. On the other side of all of that hurt, how could these two ever come back together?
I continued to think about the petty things that I saw causing hurt and division in my own and other people's marriages or friendships. I thought about the things that we struggle to forgive and move forward from. And then I thought about Lt. Holland who was SHOT IN THE FACE and later SHOOK THE HAND of the man who shot him. Despite all of the horrors of war, these were not unreconcilable differences.
It makes me feel hopeful about the things that divide us -- the same arguments and disappointments that wear down a marriage, political disagreements that keep real-life friends from even being able to be Facebook friends, theological differences that have us hacking off entire limbs of the Body of Christ. As for me, I refuse to let the hard things or differences be the final word.
I'll venture to guess that your spouse or even someone you might call your enemy has never shot you in the face. So don't give up on your relationships too easily. Bear with each other in love. By the grace given by Christ who tells us to love our enemies, find a way to turn the other cheek.
And if you ever want to chat Civil War, you know who to call.