Years ago, I saw a yellow sign hanging in the back window of a Toyota minivan. The sign, shaped in a caution triangle, was centered between two baby seats and simply declared: Poo Poo Happens.
Fair warning here: if you find that sentiment offensive, you’ll want to turn your attention to the comics. But for my remaining readers, I’d like to tell you about a recent visit from a distraught Air Force sergeant who was buried in the truth of that little sign.
When he came to my airbase office seeking counsel, I couldn’t help but notice that his camouflaged uniform did little to hide his problems. His eyelids drooped with stress. His jagged thumbnails were chewed down to cherry red.
He shook my hand and then collapsed into the leather seat I reserved for visitors. He was quiet at first, holding his stare on his oil-stained boots before finally explaining that he’d only come because his commander had ordered him to visit mental health.
“I don’t want a mental record,” he said with a slap on his chair arm. So, instead, he persuaded his commander to substitute a chaplain visit for a mental health appointment.
“Say more,” I said.
It’s a funny thing. Sometimes, I strain to get someone to tell their story, but other times, all it takes is a simple “say more,” and their story pours from them like water from an open pitcher. But, very quickly, his story dammed up.
I say “dammed” in the sense that the sergeant was lacing nearly every part of his story with some derivative of the word expletive, as well as other colorful words.
Yet, with each expletive, he’d stop to apologize. “Sorry, chaplain,” he’d say. Or, “Pardon me, chaplain.”
Now, anyone who knows me just a little bit can tell you that I don’t use street language. My schooling blessed me with an educated vocabulary and my parents raised me to carefully select my words so as to convey their most accurate meaning.
But, in my best estimation of that moment, my chaplain cross was precluding him from recounting his critical emotions. With his apologies constantly interrupting the story flow, I thought it was time to toss some verbal dynamite on his emotional dam.
So, I leaned over to touch the arm of his chair and said, “It’s OK, sergeant. It sounds like you’ve been buried under a load of poo-poo.” Of course, I didn’t actually say the word poo-poo; I opted for the four-lettered version.
He released an audible sigh, lifted his eyes and straightened his posture.
“Thank you, chaplain,” he said.
The sergeant finally felt someone heard his pain. But, most of all, he knew that he wasn’t being judged by some better-than-thou chaplain.
The talk showed me how we easily exacerbate the pain of those we are trying to help when we make following God sound like a stroll through a rose garden.
But if you read the same Bible that I read, the only roses Jesus may have known would have been part of the thorny crown he was forced to wear to his crucifixion. Now, I wasn’t at that old Calvary hill, but my guess is that it was a moment made for expletives.
Finally, if my mom is reading this, I want to assure her that I haven’t started cursing. But at the end of the day, if I have to step in a little poo-poo to show people that God hears their pain, then all I have to say is “May God bless me with a good pair of boots.”
Norris Burkes is a syndicated columnist, national speaker and author of “No Small Miracles.” Recorded comments are welcome at 843-608-9715. You may also send your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org or P.O. Box 247, Elk Grove, CA 95759. Visit thechaplain.net.