A Week of Highs and Lows

This might be the fastest week yet...filled with all the highs and lows we all experience in life, from the very sad news of losing our good friend Jack Lester, who succumbed to liver cancer in his home with his family on Sunday, January 8th.  I learned of his death when I was in my office writing him a thank you note for his generosity in our Annual Giving Campaign.  Jack was a supportive alumnus for many years.  His daughter, Paige Lester Pruett, follows her father's legacy and serves on our Board of Trustees. 

Earlier that same day [Sunday] I led the Chapel Service for the Corps of Cadets.  I decided earlier that my blog this week would be the text of my prayers and "sermon/message" to the cadets.  I hope you enjoy reading this.  I was impressed by the way the young men in our Corps listened, and enjoyed this opportunity.  It was a great week of exciting basketball games, visiting alumni, meetings on technology, discussions with staff/faculty, and leading change, yet a tough week as we continue to pray for the health of Coach (COL) Fletcher Arritt...who makes teaching and coaching look easy.

I look forward to discussing more about the future of Fork Union Military Academy in my column next week.

For now, please enjoy my "Welcome Back" message to our Corps of Cadets:

Good Morning.

Chaplain Benson is working on his doctorate degree, and attends classes in Colorado, he'll be back tomorrow.

Traditionally the President opens the January term with the first chapel service...I chose to do this one so that all the cadets would be here.
Today's service will be a mix of "sermon" and President's Address to the Corps of Cadets. 

Before we pray let me say that I know everyone in this room is not a Christian.  Being a Christian is not a requirement to attend this school. 

I am a Christian, and as I pray to the God who I believe sent Jesus to die for our sins, and that through faith in His death and resurrection we are forgiven for our sins, I also know that today, some of you may not believe the same thing...but that doesn't make your prayer any less important. 

As the Christians in this chapel pray to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, let those whose faith may be different, pray to your God.

Let's all pray together:

"Dear God, we thank you for the many blessings you have provided to each of us, and the opportunity and freedom today to worship together.  

Around the world people of all faiths gather and pray, and you listen. 
We know you are pleased with much of what you see on Earth, but we also know you would like us to all work together to serve you. 

We are here today in Wicker Chapel to worship with our words and our actions; we are here to take time to thank you for the gifts you've given to each one of us. 

Many in this room have gifts of athleticism, gifts of music, gifts of academic excellence, or gifts of social interaction.  We know everyone in this room is a gift given to this world from you, and we hear your words through the words of others.

Please help us use our gifts to please you, and not ourselves.  Also help us recognize and use those gifts for your service, and not ours...

As we pray for our families and friends, we also pray for our enemies.  Please help those who might rise up against us to see your light and be granted your wisdom.

We thank you for the youngest person here, and the oldest...and all those in between.  You are the beginning and the end.

And finally Lord, we ask that the lesson today be long enough to make a point, but short enough to listen and enjoy.

We ask this in the name of our God. Amen."

Before speaking I always consider what the audience might be interested in hearing, so I put myself back to what I wanted when I went to church as a teenager. 

What I wanted was a short sermon, and permission to get on with my busy day. 

I didn't want long history lessons or translations from Greek, and I wanted one point I could remember...

So, I will start with the point.

What I want you to learn and remember today is that each of you is on a journey, but the purpose of that journey may not reveal itself to you until you have already reached the destination. 

So it is important to make the most of each experience, rather than be wrapped up in reaching the end. The destination you have in mind now may not be God's. Trust God, and trust that He is with you on this journey...and if He is not with you, invite Him to join you.

Major Carl Muench spoke on Tuesday, and talked about the journey of Mary and Joseph.  He spoke of the placement of the stars in the universe, and he quoted Romans Chapter 8 when he read "And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose."

For the three weeks before the Christmas break, I was on the road visiting Alumni and members of our Board of Trustees.   Trustees are the group of men and women who hired me and oversee this school's policies and processes.  On those visits we shared stories about Fork Union, and the great possibilities for this school's future. One of those alumni, a man who created and led a successful chemical engineering business, paid his own way to attend FUMA.  He told me the academic preparation, discipline, and responsibility he learned here was the key to his success.

One day a few years ago, he stopped by the campus unannounced, was shown around by a staff member, and before he left he wrote a check that was used to help us make improvements to the campus.

I also met with one of our trustees whose son, Major Craig Moon, graduated from FUMA.  Her son had a successful Air Force career, and retired to help run their family business.   He passed away suddenly, but she attributes his success at college and in the Air Force to his experience here.  This year she donated a significant sum of money for us to provide scholarships to those who may not otherwise be able to attend FUMA.

Those two stories show you what I am doing when I am not on campus, which is finding supporters to help us move the school forward, and also illustrates what we say in our advertising, which is that "Success Stories Begin Here."

Major Muench also quoted Paul from the book of Philippians, and said that if Paul could continue to rejoice in the Lord while imprisoned for his beliefs, certainly we can have positive attitudes while working and attending Fork Union Military Academy.

On Thursday, CPT Mavrick spoke of diligence and persistence.  He said that we all need to have a plan in place.  He used the example of Drew Brees, the New Orleans Saints quarterback.

I once read a book entitled, "Hope Is Not a Method."   If you want to achieve an end result, planning is a method and prayer is essential.  Hoping something will happen will not get it done. 

Make small steps each day toward the outcome you plan to achieve, and with God's help, you will achieve that goal.

Even if I want to get from here to my office, I can't just be there...I need to take four steps down from this stage, open at least three doors, take the 500 steps in between, and know that as I start that simple short journey I will encounter people along the way.

For me it may be one cadet who asks me whether cadets can have cell phones, or another wondering whether or when we may authorize iPods. 
I might encounter a staff member who wants to know how they can possibly accomplish all I've asked them to do without more money or more time, or another who thanks me for something I didn't even realize I had done.

I enjoy every step of that journey, and try to make the most of every interaction God blesses me with along the way.  I once told a Chaplain that I didn't understand why God seemed to speak to other people. 

There are many who claim to have heard directly from the Lord, but I couldn't get Him to speak directly to me.

I wanted to hear His voice.

This Chaplain told me something I will never forget.  He said God does speak to you.  He speaks through everyone you meet and listen to.  He speaks to you through others.

I believe God led me here to Fork Union Military Academy.  If you look at my path from childhood...through college...through 34 years of service in the United States Coast Guard, and my four and a half years at the Coast Guard Academy...

I believe God had me on that journey to arrive here and be with you, the faculty, the staff, the trustees, the alumni, and the community; so that we could have impact on each other's lives and do the things that are pleasing to God.

When I see a young person, I see great potential.  I recognize that you, the members of our Corps of Cadets, are the future of this great country.  Our job is to get you ready.

I have very high expectations of you and for you.  I want you to believe in yourselves as strongly as we believe in you.

Know that God is with you on this journey, and trust Him.  I also ask that you trust us...but I know that trust and respect are two way streets.  As we work hard to earn your trust and respect, I ask that you work equally hard to earn ours.

Please remember my main point today...the same point made by Major Muench and Captain Mavrick.  Each of you is on a journey.

So it is important to make the most of that journey, rather than be wrapped up only in reaching the destination or in finishing this journey called Fork Union Military Academy.

The destination you have in mind today may not be God's.  Trust God, and trust that He is with you...and if He is not with you, invite Him along.
I will close with what may be my favorite verse of scripture, the 23rd Psalm, which I memorized when I trained for my one and only marathon about ten years ago. 

Memorizing scripture gave my mind something to do while my body was running.

Let us pray:

"The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
He leads me beside still waters,
He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
for his name's sake.

Even though I walk
through the valley of the shadow of death,
I shall fear no evil,
for thou art with me;
Your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy will follow me
all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the LORD


J. Scott Burhoe
President, Fork Union Military Academy
Rear Admiral, USCG, Retired