A Son's Armor

God had protected Jimmy at war, just as I’d prayed. Could I let go and trust God to protect him now?

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- Posted on Apr 20, 2015

The photo Edie took of Jimmy the day he left for Iraq, in 2007

I was upstairs making the bed. My cell phone rang. I recognized the number: my 24-year-old son. Hearing from Jimmy was a rare treat. Usually he called his dad for some guy talk.

“Mom,” Jimmy said. My smile vanished. I knew that tone in his voice. I’d heard it too many times since he returned, six months before, from his second tour of duty in Iraq as a frontline infantry Marine and bomb-dog handler.

“Mom, I need to talk to Dad,” Jimmy said. “He’s not answering his phone. You know where he is?”

I heard the breathless desperation in my son’s voice. If only he’d confide in me the way he did with Kirk! Jimmy had come back from war a totally different person. Angry. Drinking. Rejecting God.

The past few months I’d thought he was improving. He’d married his high school sweetheart, Katie. They’d rented an apartment and Jimmy was working a construction job Kirk and I had helped him land. Had I been fooling myself?

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“I’m sorry, sweetheart,” I said, trying to keep my voice level. “Dad’s on a business trip.” I paused. “Could I help?”

Jimmy was silent. He always felt he had to protect me from the gory details of his deployment. He and Kirk had such an easy rapport. I sometimes felt like a helpless bystander. Lord knows I’d prayed my heart out for Jimmy. Obviously that hadn’t been enough.

Suddenly his voice broke. “Oh, Mom, I don’t know what to do. I never told you or Dad, but I’m in tons of pain from an injury I got in Iraq. My spine and my hips were damaged. I can hardly move, my back hurts so bad.

"They’ve got me carrying Sheetrock up and down stairs on this job and I just can’t do it. I don’t want to quit but I can’t keep working. I don’t want to let you and Dad down!”

I slumped onto the unmade bed in shock. Injury? What kind of injury? How could I not have noticed? How could he have hidden it?

Jimmy and Katie had lived with Kirk and me over the summer while they waited to move into their apartment. What kind of mother was I that I couldn’t even tell that my son was in pain? Kirk and I had asked our friend Bo, a contractor, to consider Jimmy for a construction job. How stupid!

“Jimmy, if you have to quit, that’s okay,” I said. “You need to see a doctor. Where’s Katie? Can she take you?”

“Katie’s at work,” Jimmy said, seeming to bristle at my advice. “I thought I could do it if I just powered through. But Bo will be mad if I quit. I’m lying on the floor, it hurts so bad.”

“Bo won’t be mad,” I said. “I’ll talk to him. He’ll understand. You don’t need to worry about that right now.”

I longed to say more. To ask about his injury. To drive the three and a half hours to his apartment and get him to the doctor myself. But I knew I couldn’t. The more I pushed, the more Jimmy would retreat.

Jimmy with his mom today“I’m going to call Bo right now,” I said. “I’ll get things sorted out and call you right back. You rest and wait for Katie to come home. Okay?”

“Okay,” Jimmy said. I could tell he didn’t think I’d get far with Bo.

I hung up and hurried downstairs to the family room, where my computer had all our phone contacts. I knew Bo would understand about Jimmy. That wasn’t the problem. The problem was that we’d been fooling ourselves about Jimmy’s readiness for civilian life— badly. We’d been in full-blown denial.

I turned on the computer and an image flashed on the screen. My screensaver. It was Jimmy. A photo I’d taken at Camp Lejeune the day he’d left for his first deployment, three years earlier, in 2007. I’d almost stopped noticing it.

Now I just stared. He looked so different then! Younger. Thinner. Hair short, high and tight. A warm light bathed him as he hoisted his camouflage backpack and headed out to join his unit.

Oh, the fear I’d felt that day! All I could do as I sat there watching Jimmy get ready in his barracks was pray. I found myself praying for each piece of equipment he put on.

He fastened his utility belt—and I couldn’t help hearing that verse from Ephesians: “Stand firm, then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist.” I knew that whole passage by heart. I loved how it took the tools of war and turned them into emblems of faith.

Next came Jimmy’s flak vest—his “breastplate of righteousness.” The vest was so heavy Kirk had to use both hands to lift it from Jimmy’s bed. Jimmy dangled it from one strong arm, showing us the four metal plates wedged in pockets on the front and back. I prayed for each one of those plates—his “shield of faith.”

Jimmy must have seen the fear in my face. He reached into his bag and handed me his helmet, as if inviting me to feel how solid it was: “the helmet of salvation.” I handed it back to him and wrapped him in my arms. We stood like that for a long time, neither of us speaking, my embrace his final layer of protection. A mother’s shield.

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At last Jimmy had to go to the armory to pick up his rifle. We were allowed to wait with him while he joined his unit at a staging area. There, he solemnly showed the gun to his younger brothers, John and Kirk, Jr.

The boys watched wide-eyed as Jimmy calmly and confidently pointed out the various parts, handling the weapon with ease. His “sword of truth.”

I knew that his rifle, his helmet and his body armor would be no match for one well-placed roadside bomb. Yet, strangely, I felt at peace. It was as if God himself were speaking those words of Scripture in my frightened mind. Don’t be afraid, he seemed to say. I am here.

And so I remained strong as Jimmy gave us all last hugs and left with his unit. I prayed for him every day and night he was gone. I flinched every time the phone rang. But I never let go of that memory of him putting on the full armor of God. That’s why this photo was on my computer.

I looked at the picture now, trying to recapture some of the strange calm I’d felt that day. Jimmy had returned from war. God had watched over him, just as I’d prayed. Could I let go and trust God to protect him now that he was home?

I found Bo’s number and called. He was understanding and said Jimmy would be welcome to work for him whenever he was ready.

I called Jimmy back. Already he was sounding better. “That’s great about Bo,” he said. “Sure, I’ll go to the doctor, Mom—I mean, if my back doesn’t get better on its own.”

He paused, and I heard some of the old Jimmy in his voice, the tough Marine. I was about to nag him about the doctor when he said, “Thanks, Mom. I feel so much better. I’m glad I called you.”

“I love you, Jimmy,” I said. “Everything’s going to be okay.”

And it was okay. Jimmy’s back took a long time to heal. He never did work in construction again. Instead he went back to school. He graduates from college this year and plans to go to grad school to become a research librarian.

He’s been inspired by an internship he has at the Congressional Medal of Honor Society, where he helps catalogue stories about past Medal of Honor recipients.

How did my son go from angry wounded veteran to happily married college graduate pursuing a professional career? I guess you could say Jimmy was shielded from the dark forces that descended on him those first months after he returned from war.

He was shielded by us, his family, for sure. By our constant prayers.

But I know he’d been watched over long before we started asking God to protect him. Don’t be afraid. I am here. To me, those words are more than an answer to prayer. They are my impregnable shield of faith.

Download your FREE ebook, A Prayer for Every Need, by Dr. Norman Vincent Peale.

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