The sun was setting behind Hezekiah Ridge, the peak of a small mountain on Victory Trail winding through Pennsylvania’s Allegheny country. I stood at the top looking down on the 1,000 acres of land surrounding the Heritage House at White Sulphur Springs thinking about a heart of wisdom.
Shale formations covered with green moss and a brown crust I couldn’t identify rose from the ridgeback like the plates of a stegosaurus.
This was my time to reflect, to synthesize, and to pray.
On the lower trail, I came upon a porcupine. Not yet off the path, it lay motionless. It was not sleeping. It was dead and newly so. I tried and failed to determine why. It simply died.
Heart of Wisdom
Two hours prior, we had concluded the Quantico / National Capitol Region Area Annual Conference hosted by Tun Tavern Fellowship, a network of current and former Marines working to support our service members following Christ. As a part of Officer Christian Fellowship’s Conference Center ministry, White Sulphur Springs is a venue for Marines, their families, and guests to enjoy a time of refreshment and fellowship.
The theme for the conference was taken from Psalm 90, verse 12:
“Teach us to number our days,
that we may gain a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90:12).
I am always searching for mentors–men of faith with the wisdom and tools to help others face life’s most difficult challenges. When I arrived at the Jean Bonnet Tavern for an informal dinner on the first night, I found them. Across from a large brick fireplace and with ghosts of the American Revolution, I sat by candlelight with the hope of our military and of our nation.
These men of principle and faith–men who’ve served from Vietnam to Afghanistan–share a burden to help others discover a life that not only fulfills our purpose here on earth, but that also prepares us for what is beyond.
The Man You Have to Meet
(Marines: if you are men and women of faith, and you are looking for encouragement and strength during your time in the service, you must meet Mike West.
Do it before you hit up the DFAC. Knock it out before field day. Connect with him before you debrief Intel.)
LtCol (Ret.) Mike West is the current Director of Tun Tavern Fellowship and has served on the Board of Directors since 2006. Mike made it possible for me to be at this year’s conference.
The conference consisted of seminars on Combat and Faith, Discipleship, and Apologetics, and included a panel on faith and leadership.
Combat and Faith, Discipleship, and Apologetics
Speaking on Discipleship, we were privileged to have Dr. Gary Yagel, Executive Director of ForgingBonds.org and author of Got Your Back: Helping Christian Men Forge the Brotherhood Connections They Need. As a veteran and leader of men’s groups and studies, Dr. Yagel has recently been focusing on the need for men to connect with each other. In his words, “Men were never meant to walk the Christian path alone.”
Doctor of Divinity candidate and Senior Pastor of the Crossroads Presbyterian Church Colonel (Ret.) Don Sampson led a service on Sunday morning to help us gain a heart of wisdom. He reminded us that:
“If you ignore the topic of sin, you ignore the need for a Savior.”
“Sin remains, but sin no longer reigns.”
And on the topic of apologetics, I was able to share some of the insights I gained at the Ravi Zacharias International Ministries Summer Institute last June drawing heavily from Os Guinness’s Fool’s Talk.
The In Between
But the most impactful moments at these kinds of events seldom come from the formal sessions. They arrive with the relationships formed in between.
I met a man who left active duty to heed the call of ministry.
I witnessed a retired General serving coffee and juice at breakfast.
And I marveled at at pair of company grade infantry officers committed to maintaining their bond of brotherhood off duty (perhaps when the lion prowls the most).
All of these men and women encouraged one another to number their days, so they might gain a heart of wisdom.
When we said our goodbyes on the final day, I felt good about the future of our beloved Corps. The Old Breed is leading. And the new Corps is following.
Leading the Way
Led by men of conviction, our young Marines will not fear the call to battle. They will take the hill.
For their brothers and sisters in arms.
And with a little bit of faith, the courage that comes with knowing he will see them again.
The Final Victory
I continued down Victory Trail bouncing on spongy moss patches between the snow and ice and heading back toward the old Harrison House.
Victory Trail…. I wonder what victory?
I thought about the porcupine. A huffing sound and the shuffling of leaves had caused me to spring up from my examining crouch. I spun around, worried about a bear (albeit irrationally in the winter….). A white-tailed deer bounded away, traversing the mountain a quarter-mile before stopping to stare me down through the naked forest.
There it is. Life.
Perhaps the victory of that trail represents the victory of life over death.
Some believe that death has been defeated. And they will still number their days.
But when those days are gone, they will rejoice to know the Heart of Wisdom who awaits.