Courtesy of Steven Sheppard
I’ve had this post floating around in my head for months…just haven’t found a way to let it out. You know how that happens? You get a thought or idea or epiphany rattling around in there, bouncing off the sides of your skull, but it’s stuck and loses it’s impact or point when you try to explain it out loud or on paper.
So, I started to think maybe I shouldn’t try, even though I keep hearing echoes in my head; whispers, if you will, of a concept that needs to be explored.
It came to me several months ago at church, when I looked up and noticed the section in back. This row had the distinction of housing several of my brother’s co-workers – all of whom happen to be former military members of varying experience. They filled the seats, crammed together like a line of well-muscled birds, with their backs straight and their eyes focused, drinking in the sights and sounds and words coming from the stage.
They maintained this intensity throughout the service, never fidgeting or looking away from our pastor as he delivered his message. Their in-the-moment focus and patience was a sight to see. It grabbed my attention, and I’m sure caught the eye of many others in the congregation.
It has stayed with me since.
It’s an impressive thing to watch, the functioning of the heart and mind of a soldier. It’s unique, and in many ways inspiring.
Memorial Day was this past weekend, and even so I was unsure of whether to share my thoughts on this topic. People feel strongly about patriotic holidays and subject matter, and military references evoke a variety of reactions in all of us. I am not one to be overly concerned with what others say or think, but soldiers are near and dear to my heart, and matters involving them strike a raw chord with my family.
Two things happened to make me pick up a pen:
1) I saw a post on Facebook in which someone made disparaging remarks to those who would thank a soldier over the weekend. He went on to explain that Memorial Day is not about veterans or GIs, it’s about the ones who have been lost, who never made it home. Thanking a these men/women is inappropriate behavior, according to Mr. Opinionated, and he was happy to correct us in this.
Let me go on record to say that thanking a veteran (or active member of the military) is never inappropriate. Period.
2) I am writing the draft of this post in an emergency room, surrounded by the sights and sounds of machines beeping and medical staff coming in and out, as I sit by my unconscious brother. My baby brother, lying in a bed, with a tube down his throat allowing a machine to help him breathe. His arms are strapped down to keep him from tearing at the tubes should he wake up. Every so often he twitches, or grimaces in pain.
I have lost count of the number of times we have sat like this over the past eight years. It’s a way of life for our family. This time didn’t require a helicopter ride…so that’s something.
He’s only 37 years old. He is a veteran of the United States Marine Corps. And Memorial Day is most certainly about him.
Because while he did come home, miraculously, after many deployments and engagements, we did not get him back, not completely. We got him back broken and fragile, with pieces missing or shattered or irrevocably changed. We got back his nightmares and PTSD and brain trauma and horrific scars, both seen and unseen.
The boy that left for boot camp, shiny and new and excited to serve did not come home.
He was lost years ago. We mourn him every Memorial Day, and every time we sit in a hospital surrounded by machines and unanswered questions.
The man who survived, who continues to fight his way back from every single this-could-be-really-bad episode would do it all again….with pride, and without hesitation. We celebrate him every day.
We celebrate the others like him, who come in and out of our lives with stories and nightmares and survival battles of their own.
We mourn with them for the losses of their brothers who never made it home.
We are humbled by their ability to serve with every fiber of their being.
It begs the question, when was the last time we did so?
When was the last time we believed in something enough to sacrifice everything? To create and maintain a lifestyle around turning ourselves into a protector and advocate? To know that it’s worth dying for?
We talk the talk about being soldiers of God, of fighting His battles with Him, of spiritual warfare. Do we walk the walk?
1 Thessalonians 5:8 – But since we belong to the day, let us be self-controlled, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet.
There are lessons to be learned from the ideals of the American soldier.
1. Believe in the calling, no matter what
They fight for our freedom, even when it’s not pretty, or easy, or popular. The entire group has but one aim – the protection of America and its people. They don’t argue this point. They don’t debate its validity. They don’t vacillate. The purpose is the point, not the individual. Forge ahead with everything you’ve got, whether anyone sees, or cares, or hears about it. Many won’t understand – do it anyway. There will be blood, sweat and tears – wipe them off and keep going. Cry when you need to. Scream if you have to. Know that it’s worth it, and your part will make a difference.
2. Stay focused
Once the objective is made clear, they move towards it. There is a plan. There is a goal. There is no other agenda. There is no time for rabbit trails or distractions or besides-the-point stress. There is no time for pettiness or in-fighting.
3. Create strong relationships
Ever notice how tight these guys/gals can get? They are a unit, bonded my multiple layers of commitment and experiences. They are aware of the risks, and know that there is a very real chance one or more of them will be lost along the way. They form the relationships anyway. They love fiercely and without limits, forging bonds and brotherhoods that seem disproportionate at times. They don’t let the fear of being hurt or losing a member weaken their attachments or decrease their enthusiasm. They know when the pain of loss comes it will be crushing. They don’t let the anticipation or anxiety of this win over the importance of trust and human connection – the strength of this union may make all the difference in a tight spot.
4. It’s a lifestyle
There’s no such thing as lip service to a battle field. They’re all in. They live, eat, sleep, breathe, read, hear, experience and learn throughout the military experience. Every space points toward growing into the role, training each individual for the part he/she will play in obtaining victory. It’s not put on the shelf when inconvenient.
5. Live, and find your joy
Soldiers, perhaps more than any other, understand the fleeting nature of life. They have an uncanny ability to find laughter in the oddest places, and celebrate at every opportunity (sometimes in rather over-the-top ways). They know their days are numbered, so they grab life by the horns. They embrace their place in the grand scheme, accepting the byproducts to the best of their abilities.
They are human, and imperfect…and that’s okay. They make mistakes, some more costly than others. They can be broken, or derailed, or put out of commission.
It does not diminish them. It does not negate their contribution to the fight. It does not make them less deserving of love, respect, or a place in the pages of history.
What if you and I did Christianity this way?
What if we took the lessons as ideals, and put them into practice? If we treated the battle for true freedom and the redemption of human souls as a life or death issue, instead of a topic to banter about while mouthing platitudes?
What if we served with every fiber of our being, and seized the chance to love our neighbor with ferocity and fervor?
What if no amount of blood, sweat, tears or ridicule could sway us from our goal or distract us from the face of our Father?
Would our lives look different than they do now?
For most of us, the honest answer is yes. So, what are we going to do about it?
Solidarity, sisters. It’s never too late to join the fight.