“A man that hath friends must shew himself friendly: and there is a friend that sticketh closer than a brother.” Proverbs 18:24
“Chappy,” Mike said. “Do you ever wonder what comes after this?”
“After what?” I asked. “The Army?”
“No. Have you ever thought about what happens after you die?”
“Are you afraid of death?”
“Because Jesus is so real to me. He saved my soul. I know that when I die, I will go to heaven to be with Him.”
Mike looked up at the stars and I did too. I don’t remember ever seeing as many stars as there were in the sky that night over Baghdad. After a minute or so of silence, he said, “Goodnight Chaplain, I’ll see you in the morning.” He turned and went inside the tent. I sat there for a while and prayed for him. Then I went inside, found my cot, and went to sleep.
The preceding conversation took place ten years ago. Operation Iraqi Freedom was winding down and changing to Operation New Dawn. Soon, all U.S. Military Forces would leave the country. Soon, we would all be home. However, Al Qaeda was still active in our area. Iraq was still a dangerous place. So, when Mike asked me about death, I assumed he was worried about the war. How could I have known that there was a war going on inside his soul?
Sometimes we have wounds that are not visible. Mike was wounded inside. He was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). He was carrying a tremendous amount of pain that came from multiple combat tours.
When we arrived home, I was transferred. Mike and I kept in touch through social media. He would often share pictures of his family, especially his kids.
Last Friday, on Valentine’s Day, Mike took his own life.
By the time you read these words, Mike will be buried. He will be just another statistic. He will be just one of the twenty U.S. Military Veterans who die by suicide in America each day. But to me, he was more than a statistic. He was my friend. I will live the rest of my life with the heartache of not being there when he needed a friend to lean on.
If you know someone who is suffering from depression or PTSD, give them a call. Better yet, go visit them. Who knows? You just might be a friend who can make a difference.
As I have been grieving for Mike, I have sought counsel from another Friend. I have turned to Jesus for comfort. Jesus is a Friend who will never leave you nor forsake you (Hebrews 13:5). He is a Friend that sticks closer than a brother (Proverbs 18:24). He is a Friend Who loves at all times (Proverbs 17:17). He is a Friend Who laid down His life for His friends (John 15:13). I don’t know how a person can make it in this world of heartache without my Friend, Jesus.
The point is: Jesus is One Friend you can’t afford to be without. When you turn from your sin, ask Him for forgiveness, and submit to Him, Jesus becomes your Savior, Lord, and Friend. Once you come to Christ, He will be your Friend to the end…and beyond.
Is He your Friend?
James Collins is a retired U.S. Army Chaplain and current pastor of Fort Scott’s First Southern Baptist Church. If you are a Veteran in crisis, call 1-800-273-8255, or call Pastor James at (620) 223-2986.