Since I was a kid, I have always loved Christmas—not just the day, but the whole season. Even before I really knew God on a personal level, it was still about more for me than gifts and treats and a big dinner—it was family and fun and togetherness and laughter. For me, even now on a closer walk with God where I am intimately aware that we are celebrating the birth of the Savior, it’s still about those things. I really love the music, and the lights, and the excitement, and with four kids still at home, the magic. It is my very favorite time of the year.
But now, as with so many veterans, there is a darkness that can descend over the season if I let it. It wasn’t that long ago that Christmas, more than any other holiday, brought painful memories and images I’d worked hard to forget. For me, it brought thoughts of brothers I’ve lost, who aren’t home anymore with the wives and children they’ve left behind. I think of them every day, but I imagine the loss their families feel at this time of year and it tugs at me harder. For families still on active duty, it can be a very difficult time indeed. I say families, because it’s important to remember that it is not just the warfighter who sacrifices. In many ways it is so much harder a struggle to be the spouse or the children left behind during a deployment. Unlike other types of family separation, the family of a warfighter has the stress of worry and fear added to the loneliness and longing. While it is simple enough to pray about these fears, it is another thing all together to surrender them to God completely. And in the face of real tragedy and loss associated with wartime military service, it can be hard to find God in your situation at all. The horrors of war can bring questions hard to answer to warfighter and families alike. Where is God in all of this death and destruction? Why would He “let” this happen? Why can’t God bring us back together? How can God love me, after I’ve been asked to do the things I’ve done, and where was God in the horror I’ve witnessed?
Those were the feelings I was dealing with a few years ago when I decided that I felt called to write War Torn. I was already having much success with my writing, but I felt strongly that God was calling me to use the gift He has grown in me to serve Him and touch others. At the time, to be honest, I was still probably a long way from home myself. Writing this book was a journey of healing right along side my young protagonist Jake. And I later learned, my wife, Wendy, shared much in common with Rachel, his wife in the novel. Struggling with how to put it all together (in my mind I convinced myself I meant the book, not my own life) I approached Pastor Chris Bonham, the Senior Executive Pastor at Grace Family Church, where we had been attending for a few years by then. His friendship has proven to be such a blessing in my own journey, but his impact on the book was immeasurable. I’ve written before about the important message he shared with me in that meeting—about the loss of hope that occurred at the crucifixion and how those present with Jesus on the at day must have felt torn apart, full of hopelessness, perhaps even betrayed by God on that day. Because they didn’t have what we have now going into Easter—the knowledge that the resurrection was just around the corner and that through Jesus’ sacrifice for our sins, we can now have a personal, intimate relationship with God—they felt only the pain and loss and horror of that day. That conversation with Pastor Chris changed me and it also changed the framework of War Torn. Instead of writing about unanswerable questions, I learned that it is about surrender of those questions, along with the hurt and loss, to God. It is about finding our way to family and to our faith. It’s about hope.
So, what is Christmas, if not a celebration of the birth of that hope? War Torn is about redemption, and true redemption—and the marvelous release of pain that comes with it—was born in Bethlehem two thousand years ago. When God decided to come to us in the flesh, to take our failures on himself and sacrifice himself on a cross so that we could be in relationship with Him, our redemption was born.
It still hurts to know that there is grief in this season for the families my brothers left behind. It turns out, unlike my naïve interpretation of the scripture early in my walk, Romans Eight does not promise us freedom from pain or suffering. But it does promise us that, through the hope brought by a relationship with Jesus Christ, we can surrender our suffering and burdens to God and he will ease them—that he will even bring good from them. That is the hope that was born in that manger.
Christmas presents a unique opportunity to share that hope with others—those in desperate need of the hope found in the message of Jesus’ birth and life as well as his death and resurrection. If there are service members and their families in your community, reach out to them this season with that hope. If there are veterans in your community—and with nearly eighteen years of continuous war fighting that is nearly every community in our nation—Celebrate Christmas by bringing the hope of the risen Christ to those who have served and live near you. If your church doesn’t have a support group for these warfighters and their families, ask why. Maybe even help get one launched. If you don’t know how to start, that’s okay. Find us at www.wartornnovel.com and let us help you.
It is a season for giving, so give what matters most.
Navy veteran and Wall Street Journal and Amazon bestselling thriller author Jeffrey Wilson is a vascular surgeon who was completing his training when terrorists attacked America on 9/11. Already having served, Jeff immediately rejoined the active duty Navy and served as a combat surgeon with the Marines and then with an East Coast–based SEAL team and a Joint Special Operations Task Force, making multiple deployments. His experiences there—seeing things that cannot be unseen—sent him on his own journey exploring, and at times questioning, his faith, and are the inspiration for this novel. Jeff has also worked as an actor, a firefighter, a paramedic, a jet pilot, and a diving instructor.
Together with fellow Navy veteran Brian Andrews, Jeff writes the Amazon #1 bestselling Tier One series of military thrillers and (under the pseudonym Alex Ryan) the Nick Foley thriller series. Jeff is also the author of three award-winning supernatural thrillers.
Jeff and his wife, Wendy, are Virginia natives who, with their four children, Ashley, Emma, Jack, and Connor, call southwest Florida home. When not writing his next novel, Jeff still practices medicine and leads the Men’s Military Ministry at his church, where Wendy leads the Beautiful Moms Ministry, Emma sings on the praise and worship team, Jack works on the AV team, and Connor has volunteered in the children’s ministry.