Monday, May 30, 2016

Memorial Day: Sacrificing for Freedom

On this May 30, 2016, United States of America citizens are celebrating Memorial Day. Traditionally, it is a day we set aside to remember our country’s soldiers who died in combat, most fallen in some war on foreign soil. Most fought to ensure that our country, and many other countries and their inhabitants, would continue to enjoy freedom. True freedom. Not just the freedom to travel, work, and play, but soul and spirit freedom—freedom to think, worship, and speak freely. Freedom to pursue God-given gifts and interests, without a “state” directing where you will go to learn, to worship, and dictating what you can or cannot say, or even think.

            Unfortunately, some of those precious, hard-fought-for freedoms are quickly slipping away in my country, obliterated by PC (political correctness) police and self-designated intellectual socio-political elites who think they’re all-knowing and have all of the answers to life’s ills, and can write and enforce laws to make all of us march, willingly or unwillingly, to their redundant, brain-deadening drumbeat. Ironically, often it’s the people who want to dictate thinking and living that cause the greatest turmoil and initiate the bloodiest, country-razing wars.
            The problem is that their belief is utopic. They dream of a perfect world where everyone just compromises and gets along, everything is fair and just, and the environment stays pristine. As much as we should—as much as is possible—try to be at peace with all men; work tirelessly to see that laws and verdicts are just to all people; and endeavor to be good, godly stewards of the environment God has entrusted to us for a little time, “perfect” is impossible this side of Heaven and the New Earth. And I think their definition of “perfect” certainly needs to be re-evaluated. Whoever defines the terms wins the argument, and their definitions are so often skewed, contradictory, and hypocritical that even they don’t come close to the perfection they demand and promote.
            A week ago I met a business owner who has lived an interesting life all over the world. I won’t divulge exactly what his career was, but suffice to say he knows a lot about warfare and the deepest, inner workings of this country. In his current business, (something to occupy him in retirement, I guess), he has met tourists from around the world, too. He listens to the way they talk, the way they reason, the ideas they espouse. He seems to ponder these things in his heart. (In his former life, he had to take note of every detail and stay sharp.) And he said something interesting that I’d never heard before, something—after much consideration and evaluation by my husband and me—I find true, and profoundly sad. He said (very thoughtfully and carefully), “The people who put so much stock in the state taking care of and providing for them, for directing their lives, have lost a little bit of their soul. And they are unable to reason well because of it.”
            My brain screamed, “Wow!” at his insight. How true. How quickly we give up true freedom—and little bits of our soul and spirit—in exchange for empty, impossible-to-fulfill promises. Promises that really don’t make us any more comfortable or secure. Promises that—if we’re honest—actually make us more miserable and impotent than joyful, productive, and satisfied with life.
            In 1607, one of my relatives sailed from England to be part of the Jamestown Colony on the Eastern shores of America, in what is now the State of Virginia. In 1620, five more ancestors arrived at Plymouth Rock in what is now the State of Massachusetts. Three of them didn’t survive the first winter. But one major reason all of them came was freedom. Freedom to worship and live freely. Freedom from tyranny. Freedom from spiritual enslavement. The three remaining ancestors produced descendants that have fought and given their lives as sacrifice in our Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, our Civil War, World War I and II, Korea, Vietnam, and others. Although my father didn’t die in WWII, he fought in that war, on foreign soil, for over three years and earned three Bronze Stars for bravery. (Something I learned only recently after obtaining his service history information from our government; although when I perused his ribbons and bars, I found five little bronze stars pinned on one of them.)
            Thankfully, my father did not fall in battle, but in some sense he did give his life for our freedoms, as do all service men or women, because when a service man or woman goes off to war, they are forever affected and changed by what they witness, what they have to do to secure freedom. Life is never again the same for them. War is an ugly, sometimes necessary, solution to the world’s evil. And as long as there is evil in this world—as there most certainly is—it needs to be confronted and reckoned with. Contrary to popular opinion, man is not inherently good. Recorded history and daily living prove it.
            A concept and truth that often drives our country to reckon with war and defend others can be found in Psalm 82:3-4:
            "Defend the cause of the weak and fatherless; maintain the rights of the
            poor and oppressed. Rescue the weak and needy; deliver them from the
            hand of the wicked."

            We are our brother’s keeper.
            Yet, even though we are motivated by this passage, it is not something to be entered into casually or without great planning, and agonizing prayer. It is not something you embark upon as a kneejerk, revenge-seeking reaction. There is a price to pay—from the low-ranking troop to the decorated, seasoned commander; for the collective nation; for the nation’s citizens. There are costs to be soberly counted.
            That price seared my mind while visiting the national cemetery where my own precious father was laid to rest. Walking through one of those grass-covered interment sites, no matter where it is or how small it is, triggers an emotional deluge. The dam breaks, even if you don’t have a personal relationship to any of the brave resting there.
            This is what I wrote after one of my visits to his grave.

            “Hundreds of little American flags fluttered proudly and majestically in the gentle breeze while pristine white clouds puffed across the azure sky. Despite the perfect day, a palpable spirit of pain, loneliness and loss pervaded the National Cemetery that Memorial Day. Subdued whispers carried by the breeze floated across the grassy landscape meticulously lined with identical marble headstones. Row upon row upon row of the markers laid out in perfect geometric spacing left no doubt as to what kind of cemetery we strolled through. This was the final resting place for hundreds of brave souls who sacrificed their lives or a significant portion of their youth for their fatherland. I stood and gazed across the landscape, making mental notes of each visitor in the particular section in which I stood.
            “A young woman with two small children spread a blanket and lunch on her husband’s fresh grave. As her children wandered, or played in the grass, she sat, talked to the monument, wept, rearranged the fresh flowers, or paced in agitation. Her husband’s brief life had recently ended on a battlefield halfway around the world, in a country she’d never seen, for people she’d never met.
            “An aged man hunkered in his lawn chair in front of another headstone bearing the name of a woman. He vacillated between staring at the gravestone and holding his shaking head in his hands. With a small cooler at his feet, he looked prepared to sit for hours, to stay near his beloved, who may have kept the home fires burning years ago while he marched off to defend her, and his beloved country. She paid a price, too, for his absence. Undoubtedly, he came home a much different man than he was when he left.
            “My own mother sat on a concrete bench in front of my father’s resting site, saying nothing. Others meandered forlornly among the headstones, looking lost. It was a painful site.
            After watching these broken-hearted people, my own heart cried as I lifted my face to heaven and whispered, “How long, O Lord? How much longer before you return and rid us of the pain and destruction we have brought upon ourselves? Have mercy upon us, Lord. How long before the lion lies down with the lamb?
            “’When the time is perfect,’” the Lord spoke to my heart. “I will come at the perfect time to wipe away every tear and make all things new. Until then, keep your eyes firmly on me and trust.”

            The Lord was reminding me that even in the midst of a pain-soaked cemetery, there is reason to hope. And it’s that hope that gets me up every morning and directs my day.

             There’s much for us to ponder on Memorial Day. While I didn’t intend to roll into a political discussion, the part politics plays in contributing to the results that warrant a memorial day is undeniable. And they warrant our memories and understanding. For those who don’t know or understand history are condemned to repeat and suffer from it. There are reasons to fight against injustice, and for freedom. There are reasons to sacrifice for them. As many say in our country: “Freedom is not free.” It comes at a cost. And all of us need to ask ourselves whether or not we’re willing to pay the price.

            Are you willing to pay the price? Or have you lost a little bit of your soul?

            Today I’m remembering all of those who were willing, or did not shrink from, sacrificing or paying the price. I’m remembering the young men who sacrificed their innocent youth, the families who sacrificed and endured a loved ones’ absence, who endured sleepless, worry-laden nights. The service men and women who arrived home physically and mentally broken and labor to somehow recover—as much as is physically possible—and the families who received them home and love them.
            “Thank you” seems like an anemic remark for such sacrifices, but I’ll say it anyway.
            Thank you.

            We won’t forget.


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