On April 8, 1968, Max Cleland’s life changed forever. With only a month left in his tour of duty in Vietnam, he flew on a short hop to a division base and was the last man off the chopper. As he cleared the whirling blades, he spotted a grenade which had accidentally fallen from another soldier’s vest. Unaware that the pin had been pulled, Max reached out to pick it up. The grenade detonated, and the explosion ripped his body apart. The combat medics and 42 pints of blood saved his life, but he suffered the loss of both legs and his right arm. In his book, Heart of a Patriot, Max begins with an open letter to America’s Veterans. He writes: “The physical wounds were the first to heal and the easiest to deal with. … The mental and emotional wounds—and a whole suite of spiritual wounds—have been far more difficult to overcome.”
After the war, Max overcame, reaching great success in his life of service and politics. He was named administrator of Veterans Affairs in 1977, served as Georgia Secretary of State, and was elected a United States Senator from Georgia in 1996.
Born the only child of Hugh and Juanita Cleland in 1942, Max says he was raised to be self-sufficient. “I was born to dominate, born to win and born to be successful.” However, after returning from Vietnam, Max was forced to live a very different life—one where he couldn’t dominate and wasn’t in control. Learning to let go and let God would be the toughest challenge he would ever face.
I had the pleasure of speaking with the former Senator recently. He shared with me his devotion to God, his respect for his friends and his love of Daily Word, which has been a part of his life for 30 years. His primary need, he said, is to make daily, conscious contact with God through prayer, reading and meditation. The more he does that, the more at ease he feels in letting go. “I need that daily contact with my Lord, my God, my Savior, my sense of what’s right in the world.”
Often during our conversation, Max spoke of two things that carry us through life’s darkest hours. “When we get to the end of our rope,” he says, “that’s when we most need the grace of God and the help of our friends.”
“Ultimately, we all come to a point when we’ve got a situation that we cannot handle ourselves. How fortunate are those who find some kind of help. Often times the way in which you experience the grace of God is through the help of your friends.”
Max considers Daily Word to be a friend that has supported him over the years. “It has helped me immensely throughout my life. And I do know, without a shadow of a doubt, that when I pick up a Daily Word, it’s a place of peace, serenity, guidance, love and support.”
Through the grace of God and the help of our friends, Max says, we can become strong at “the broken places.” This idea, which has held great meaning for him, comes from a line in A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway:
The world breaks everyone and afterward
many are strong at the broken places.
Hemingway was an ambulance driver in World War I and was wounded when a shell exploded near him and shrapnel ripped through his leg. Hemingway’s leg was almost lost. He was nursed back to health, but was forever changed by war.
Identifying with Hemingway in many ways, Max finds solace in the author’s words. “The world does break us. And once we’re broken and at the point where tears are streaming down our faces, and we’re crying out ‘God help me,’ once we get to that place and survive—and you live another minute, another hour, you survive another day—when you are totally broken and have no place to go, God is there to strengthen and help you, and you get strong at the broken places.”
Max illustrates this with a story from the Gospel of Mark, in which a father cries out for help to save his long-suffering son. “Jesus said to him, ‘All things can be done for the one who believes.’ Immediately the father of the child cried out, ‘I believe; help my unbelief!’” And the boy was healed.
Max shares how this is a great place in which to find yourself. When you ask God to help you, you realize where your strength comes from. And no matter what you are dealing with, when you experience relief, that is the grace of God.
We all face hardship in life. “The real question,” Max shares, “is not so much, ‘Are we broken?’ because the answer is, ‘Yes.’ When we are disappointed, we’re broken. When we experience loss, we’re broken. When we grieve, we’re broken. The question is, How do we get strong at the broken places? My only answer to how we do that is by the grace of God and the help of friends.”
Note: This article was written by Laura Harvey, Editor of Daily Word.