56. Miracle Book

Miracle Book

He did not waver through unbelief regarding the promises of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God. Romans 4:20

“It’s good to see you again,” Austin said, setting his Chipotle burrito on the metal table.

“Yeah man, you too,” I said, finding my seat across from him. “Last time I saw you you were riding off into the sunset with Alyssa.”

“I know. Hard to believe it’s already been a year and a half.”

“How’s the married life?”

“It’s…” Austin’s face shifted into a half-grimace. “It’s had its ups and downs.”

“Not all it’s cracked up to be?”

“It’s good and all, but I’ve often wondered if I jumped the gun.”

“Like you weren’t ready?”

“Yeah. Feels like I’m assembling a plane in midair.”
“I hear ya. That’s tough.” I bit a sizable chunk out of my burrito. After our short intermission I said, “So throwing a baby in the mix might not have been a great idea?”

Austin laughed. “Yeah, maybe not, but Amelia’s worth it.” Austin scooped a mouthful of the burrito he gutted into his mouth. “How are things with you?”

“Goin’ pretty well. Nothin’ new to report. As much as I wish I had one there’s no girlfriends to report of. Just makin’ final preparations before deployment.”

Austin’s sunlit eyes began dripping with concern. “I’ve gotta be honest, the real reason I wanted to spend time with you is that I’m worried about you. I just don’t want this to be the last time we see each other.”

I paused, his statement catching me by surprise. Concern? Never in all my years had he spoken to me like this. While sharing the same roof we only ever bumped shoulders as boys and lived mostly separate lives as detached teens. Somehow now he mustered up the courage to tread new grounds, offering up sincere, unsolicited care for me.

“It won’t be.”

“I know, but I can’t help it. You just became an uncle. You have so much life ahead of you but you’re going to a very dangerous place.”

My gaze tilted towards the metal table, the ocean breeze filling my deep breath. I dodged his wet glare and looked up and surveyed the scene. Bystanders meandered amongst us, hovering in and out of shops lining the paths of the stripmall, happily ambling from one undisturbed moment to the next, absent any sense of danger, discomfort or desire save for the petty dramas of their bourgeois life, a life that I’ve aimlessly lived just like them. Finally I would be blessed with detaching from it. 

My eyes returned to his.

“I know this is where God wants me. I know I’ll be okay. He will protect us, and I’ll have stories to prove it when I get back.”

Before I left Bangor, before any knowledge of where or if I would deploy, something compelled me to memorize a Psalm. 

Psalm 91. Memorize it.

Unsure of its contents, I flipped to it in my Bible, the section entitled “My Refuge and My Fortress.” Upon further review, an irresistible compulsion drove me to learn each word. So, I found a more obscure and less clunky translation.

1 The one who lives under the protection of the Most High 

      dwells in the shadow of the Almighty. 

2 I will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress, 

      my God, in whom I trust.” 

3 He Himself will deliver you from the hunter’s net, 

      from the destructive plague. 

4 He will cover you with His feathers; 

      you will take refuge under His wings. 

      His faithfulness will be a protective shield. 

5 You will not fear the terror of the night, 

      the arrow that flies by day, 

6 the plague that stalks in darkness, 

      or the pestilence that ravages at noon. 

7 Though a thousand fall at your side 

      and ten thousand at your right hand, 

      the pestilence will not reach you. 

8 You will only see it with your eyes 

      and witness the punishment of the wicked. 

9 Because you have made the Lord-my refuge, 

      the Most High-your dwelling place, 

10 no harm will come to you; 

      no plague will come near your tent. 

11 For He will give His angels orders concerning you, 

      to protect you in all your ways. 

12 They will support you with their hands 

      so that you will not strike your foot against a stone. 

13 You will tread on the lion and the cobra; 

      you will trample the young lion and the serpent. 

14 Because he is lovingly devoted to Me, I will deliver him; 

      I will exalt him because he knows My name. 

15 When he calls out to Me, I will answer him; 

      I will be with him in trouble. 

16 I will rescue him and give him honor. 

      I will satisfy him with a long life and show him My salvation.

About a year later, perhaps four months before deploying to Afghanistan, while on duty I sat at the desk in the office when a book with a giant “91” printed on the cover caught my eye. Pulling it closer, the title read, Psalm 91, God’s Shield of Protection, by Peggy Joyce Ruth. A jolt of intrigue livened my brain and body as I snatched it up and began reading.

Throughout the years leading up to this point, my faith in God steadily mounted. Not only did I begin to take ownership of my faith during this time, I hungered to consume every ounce of Scripture and egg-headed theology or commentary surrounding it. This informal ordination grew my confidence in God’s purpose for my life and propelled me eagerly forward, ready to accept with open arms anything he offered, especially the impending combat deployment. 

Finding this book only confirmed my sense of God’s imminent presence, as if he tutored me every step of the way, handing me all the resources I needed for this dire chapter in my life. The book is filled with fantastical stories of miraculous accounts of God protecting people from harm or delivering them from life-threatening circumstances. One man, full of faith in God’s word, rebuked a tornado closing in on his home and it turned away. Another account tells of WWII pilots who prayed for fuel needed to escape a deserted island they fled to during an emergency landing. Not more than a few days later, several drums of fuel flowed to their shore, barrels which had tumbled off a distressed ship months prior and hundreds of miles away. Another tale spoke of a soldier in Vietnam who was shot in the chest and assumed dead. After waking, he frantically frisked his body and discovered the bullet did not penetrate his skin, not knowing what stopped it. Reaching into his chest pocket, he pulled out his Gideon Bible, with half the pages mushrooming out from the point of impact. When he flipped the Bible open, the bullet stopped in the Psalms, the section sitting roughly half-way through the thickness of the Bible, and the final dent rested on Psalm 91. 

Verifiable or not, I swallowed whole every word and story Peggy wrote. Filled to the brim with confidence, I now knew why I memorized Psalm 91: to pray it over all who served with me before patrols. When I had met Austin and said what I said, all of this floated in the back of my mind, and I was eager to see what my story would look like if I had a chapter in Peggy’s miracle book.

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