A Time To Mourn
“To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted; A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance.” Ecclesiastes 3:1-4
I was awakened at 2:30 in the morning by a pounding on my door. Adrenaline immediately hit my system as I jumped to my feet. You learn how to sleep and sort of stay awake at the same time in combat. I threw open the door to see the face of Pfc. Clark. “Come quick chaplain,” he said. “We had a convoy get hit. There is one casualty.” Clark turned to run back to headquarters. I yelled after him, “Who?” He stopped, looked over his shoulder, and said, “Maj. Culver.”
I felt like I had been punched in the stomach. My eyes welled up with tears. As I hurriedly dressed, I argued and bargained with God. “No! No! No! You can’t do this. Not Wayne. Let it be a mistake. Take my life instead.” I slipped my boots on without lacing them and ran out into the night. There was a red haze in the air. Literally, the Iraqi desert looked like hell.
The tactical operations center was quiet when I enter the room. Everyone stopped what they were doing and looked at me. The squadron commander, Ltc. William Rachal walked over. He put his hand on my shoulder and whispered, “Chappy, the vehicle Wayne was in was struck by an IED. He was killed instantly.” My legs felt weak, I backed up against the wall, and slid down into a chair. Ltc. Rachal leaned in and continued, “I know that you are hurting, but I need you to hold it together. Everyone will be looking to you.” I choked back tears, stood to my feet, and said, “Yes, sir.”
Ltc. Rachal was right. Over the next few days, people did look to me. As the chaplain for Task Force Geronimo, the soldiers looked to me for spiritual guidance and comfort – especially in a time of loss. Wayne was a huge loss. To our unit, Maj. Ronald “Wayne” Culver was our executive officer. To me, he was the best friend I had on the deployment.
We spent a lot of time together in the year leading up to our arrival in Iraq. Once we arrived, we made it a point to have coffee every morning. We didn’t talk business over morning coffee. The conversations were about family, movies, music, and God. I intentionally ended each morning coffee with a prayer for Wayne. The last time I saw him, I also prayed for him. He was getting ready to depart on the ill-fated mission. When I finished praying, Wayne smiled and said, “You didn’t pray in little baby Jesus name.” He was jokingly referring to a line in the movie, Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby.
Since his death and over the years, I often think about his children. His daughter, Michelle, finished her master’s degree last year. She lives in Austin and works for the State of Texas. His son, Ron, graduated from the University of Kansas last week. Wayne would be proud of them.
It is going on ten years, since I last spoke to Wayne’s wife, Tracy. I can’t work up the courage to contact her. At our deployment ceremony, Tracy said to me, “I am so glad that you have come into Wayne’s life. Since he met you, he is more focused on the Lord. Wayne loves you.” Then she said something to me that haunts my dreams. She said, “Keep him straight. Take care of him.” Tragically, I couldn’t take care of him…
The day before Wayne’s death, I had just returned to Iraq from ten days in the United States. I had been given leave to go home to be with my wife, Amanda, for the birth of our son, John. My son was born one week, and my best friend died the next. There is a time to be born; and a time to die. To everything there is a season…
The point is: The Bible teaches there is a time for mourning. When Wayne died, I really couldn’t process his passing. I had to be strong. I had to soldier on. I had to preach his memorial service. My season for mourning had to wait. It had to wait until today. As I write these words, my heart breaks over the loss of my friend.
Memorial Day is this Monday. It is a solemn day to remember those who gave everything in the service of this country. It is a time to honor those who gave their lives for the freedoms we cherish. It is a time to mourn their loss.
However, I have come to realize that Wayne would not want me to mourn forever. So, I have decided to look forward. There will come a time when I will see Wayne again. There will come a time when we will share a morning cup of coffee. There will come a time when death and sadness will be no more. There will come a time when there will be no more crying, pain, or mourning.
I don’t know about you, but I look forward to that season…
James Collins is a pastor, columnist, author, and retired U.S. Army Chaplain. He can be reached at Fort Scott’s First Southern Baptist Church at (620) 223-2986, or through the website www.thepointis.net.