My plan was simple: Have all of my children and grandchildren up at the cabin for our annual Fourth of July gathering. We have been doing this for many years and it is one of the timeslots that I look forward to each year. Often times we will have friends from church also join in our ten days sitting at a lake where we have come to share so many memories.
The only real problem is that as our children get older, due to location of their homes and scheduling conflicts, it isn’t always easy to get them all there.
So, we would make due and enjoy whoever could come up.
Ivan’s (not his real name) plan was simpler: Spend time with his dad at a cabin that his dad rented right next to our family cabin. The current owner wasn’t able to use her cabin as much as she had in the past so she decided to rent it out this summer.
I should also mention that Ivan shared that he wanted to spend the entire time at the cabin drunk; vodka was his beverage of choice. He told me this when he came over to our cabin to introduce himself and ask if he could rent a fishing pole form me for the next five days. The smell of alcohol on his breath caught my nose five feet before Ivan arrived.
He was friendly and twenty six years old and well on his way to reach his goal of being drunk; because it was only nine o’clock in the morning!
I offered him several fishing poles to choose from and told him that I would loan one to him; not rent it. He proceeded to tell me what a great guy I was and that he loved me, and went back to try out fishing.
This would be one of MANY trips that Ivan would make to our cabin. He came back several minutes later to ask if it would be OK for him to replace the line on the reel. I told him ‘yes’. He went back to his cabin.
Several minutes later he came back to ask if someone knew how to change the line on a reel; one of my sons-in-law went over to help him out.
This would be Ivan’s pattern over the next several hours and days. We got so good at watching for him that we thought of ways to make ourselves scarce so that we didn’t have to deal with his excessive drinking…
I should point out that Ivan was generous and rarely came over empty handed; sometimes it he was carrying beers. One time he came over with a small roast that his dad had cooked because he wanted to communicate that he loves us for being so nice to him. And his dad is a great chef, as my taste buds found out.
We came to learn that Ivan drank for a reason; he was an Iraq war veteran trying to deal with his PTSD. Ivan had joined the army when he was seventeen years old. No seventeen year old should have seen what he saw or experienced what he experienced.
Ivan’s job in the war was sweeping IUDs and was the lead truck. Ivan, in my opinion, was also struggling with “survivor’s guilt” as he shared with us that he had watched many of his fellow soldiers blown up. Ivan was also blown up but he survived.
Survivor guilt is a mental condition that occurs when a person perceives themselves to have done wrong by surviving a traumatic event when others did not.
Ivan shared that his only way of dealing with his pain was drinking a liter of vodka a day, and that he knew that he was messed up.
Eventually, Ivan, because of the excessive drinking, wore out his welcome and we asked him to leave; which he did only to return a few hours later. And once again, after awhile we would ask him to leave or tell him that we were going to go to bed.
The next morning once again, he would be drunk, and so the encounters with Ivan would continue. So we would start to challenge him to get help. Ivan would respond with circular logic which doesn’t work very well; especially if you are drunk.
In time, Ivan and his dad packed up and went back home and we were relieved as we could get back to our plan of our family gathering.
After Ivan left, my heart was challenged as to how I interacted with Ivan.
“They will know we are Christians by our love, by our love, yes they will know we are Christians by our love.” Or not…
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another.” (John 13:34)
Over the next few days I wrestled as I pondered if I had missed an opportunity to care for someone; after all, except for being drunk, Ivan had done nothing wrong.
In fact he came over because he said he felt that we cared for him. He apologized for his wrong words and the fact that he drank too much. He was generous with compliments and hugs (in a healthy way).
“And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.” (Mathew 25:40)
Ivan's condition was simply a bi-product of war. He was hurting and broken and needed healing. And I squandered my time with him.
“Then He will answer them, saying, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’ (Matthew 25:45)
I had an opportunity to show the love of Jesus to a wounded war veteran; on the fourth of July. But I didn’t want him around because he was inconvenient.
Something needs to change in my heart if I am going to call myself a Christian…
“The question is not can we heal? The question, the only question, is will we let the healing power of the risen Jesus flow through us to reach and touch others, so that they may dream and fight and bear and run where the brave dare not go?” ― Brennan Manning, “The Furious Longing of God
All Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.