"As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation
is not to utter the words, but to live them out."
John Fitzgerald Kennedy
Memorial Day is special to me, as it should hold a special place in all of our hearts. I've lost family and friends to both war and training accidents in military service. Their memory hasn't faded from my mind, and their sacrifice screams out to me every time I see the flag of our nation. We often mistake this day as just another patriotic holiday that relieves us from the obligations of our employment, without fully examining those it is meant to honor. I think we should honor our veterans everyday, but Memorial Day is not set aside to show respect to those who currently serve; instead, it was established to honor those who, through their selfless dedication to our nation, paid the ultimate price. Those honored on Memorial Day are no longer here with us to accept the gratitude of a thankful country; instead, they lie entombed, having given far more than their best for the United States of America.
The Civil War ended in 1865, and before the turn of the decade, Americans in various towns around our nation began to meet together and decorate the graves and pay honor to the nations fallen heroes. Originally called "Decoration Day," Memorial Day was recognized as a federal holiday in 1971.
I thank God for the American solider, and it is with a humble heart that I remember those who have died on my behalf, and for my safety and freedom, while proudly wearing the uniform of our nation. I fear that the sacrifices of our fallen heroes have been somewhat forgotten over time, as we live in a nation today that shows a great distraction from the hard lessons of history. This is painfully evident to me as I sadly observe how politics and politicians recklessly abuse the spirit and message of our founding documents and, with profane arrogance, seek to undermine the freedoms that heroic men and women have labored and died to preserve. It's a different country – a divided county. If we're not careful, our division will catch up with us. There's a possibility it already has.
Arlington National Cemetery currently has over 400,000 graves. Not all of those present were soldiers, and not all died in combat, but the many gravestones present should still stand out to us as a stark reminder of the sacrifices that have been made for the preservation of our national freedom.
Let us also remember that each grave represents much more than a fallen solider. These gravestones represent an individual who took upon themselves the defense of nation full of people they did not know or necessarily agree with. They represent months and even years of hard training, learning the art of war. Each gravestone represents a great degree of courage, and, most assuredly, a great degree of palpable apprehension and fear that may have never been conquered as they fought America's battles on foreign soil. These gravestones also represent their families. Too often we fail to understand that each solider is a son, daughter, mother, or father. These gravestones represent the shared grief that can only be understood by families who, as Abraham Lincoln said, "have laid so costly a sacrifice upon the altar of freedom" (From a November 12, 1864 letter from Abraham Lincoln to Lydia Bixby, mother who lost five sons during the Civil War).
The entire letter reads:
Washington, Nov. 21, 1864.
I have been shown in the files of the War Department a statement of the Adjutant General of Massachusetts that you are the mother of five sons who have died gloriously on the field of battle.
I feel how weak and fruitless must be any word of mine which should attempt to beguile you from the grief of a loss so overwhelming. But I cannot refrain from tendering you the consolation that may be found in the thanks of the Republic they died to save.
I pray that our Heavenly Father may assuage the anguish of your bereavement, and leave you only the cherished memory of the loved and lost, and the solemn pride that must be yours to have laid so costly a sacrifice upon the altar of freedom.
Yours, very sincerely and respectfully,
In the current and costly political divisiveness so prevalent in America, let us choose to take a moment and stand together in unity to honor the sacrifice of heroes. Let us acknowledge that they were only normal people who became extraordinary, because they did not run from evil when freedom was challenged. Instead, they answered the call, trained for the cause, and overcame their fear. They stood up and took action, leaving their homes and families, drawing a line in the sand between freedom and tyranny, and, in that pursuit, they gave their life. We are indebted to those who have fallen, and let us not forsake the beauty of their memory or diminish the weight of their sacrifice.
To the fallen America Solider, Sailor, Airmen, and Marine, from the hearts of a grateful nation, and from the heart of a very proud and humbled American citizen...thank you.
"...but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us."
Romans 5:8 (ESV)
Swiss theologian and Catholic priest, Hans Urs von Balthasar said, “What you are is God's gift to you, what you become is your gift to God.”
I love the picture I chose in creating the graphic for this blog. It's simply two people walking down a desolate road. One of those adorable little humans has her arm around the other. Maybe her walking partner is lonely, frustrated, or angry? Maybe they just need a friend? Whatever the case, she's comforting them and showing love. One of the things that stands out to me in this picture is that she's doing so in the absence of the eyes of others. She's not trying to impress anyone or persuade the masses to think of her as loving and compassionate, because there's no one there to watch. To me, this little girl is showing genuine affection to someone for whom she holds great care and concern...and obviously a depth of love. I think it's precious, and it's a picture of the goodness of God...so often found on a lonely road.
On many occasions, God puts us directly in the path of someone who simply needs a friend – if only for the moment. Earlier this year, I was in a store, minding my own business, when I saw a lady walking towards me. She had obviously been crying, and I could tell her conscious was distracted by the source of her tears. My heart just went out to her, but I didn't know anything of her situation. It wasn't my place to say anything to her...or was it? I feel it was, because the compassion I had for her, and the desire to speak to her, were put there by a God who was asking me to show her His goodness. (We often think God will only give us direction in a way that awes our senses, but I feel He mostly just gently "hints" to us in our mind.) As she passed by me, I simply said, "Ma'am, are you OK?" She stopped, almost shocked, and starred at me with red, puffy eyes...but eyes that were completely focused on me. I was ready for her to tell me that her condition was absolutely none of my business. I could almost feel it coming. But, her response was kind and almost submissive. She said that she was upset, but that she would be fine. I didn't know what to tell her, because I didn't know anything about her situation, but I still felt that God made her walk down that specific aisle, directly at me...giving His often rebellious child a reason to be obedient. So, shooting from the hip, I dug down deep into my collection of "things you say to upset people" bag and simply came up with this: "I don't know what's happened to you that is causing your tears, but just know that it's not something God can't heal."
It was the interaction that she needed, at the very moment, right in the middle of the paper goods aisle of the Dollar Store in Jackson, GA. We stood and talked for another thirty minutes. I won't share her problems, because there were many, and none of them easy to solve. My words didn't solve any of them, but this kind lady just needed a friend. She needed one right then, and God saw fit to cross our paths. I reminded her that Jesus died on the cross for us, but that our eternity isn't His only concern. Jesus is concerned with our day-to-day struggles, and He was well aware of what she was going through at that very moment. I asked her if she had taken these problems to the feet of God in prayer, and she no. So, we prayed right there, in front of the paper plates...holy ground is wherever you find yourself when you realize God's already present in that place.
Who are we becoming?
Are we becoming disciples of Christ who spread God's goodness? If we're living our life with God as the foundation, then we should be becoming more like Jesus. Although there's many verses I could choose from, let me just use one today...
"I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.
And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God,
who loved me and gave himself for me."
Galatians 2:20 (ESV)
It was Jesus who put His arm around us as we walked down a lonely road. It is Jesus who paid our debt, comforted our rebellious heart, and offered us an eternity with Him – an eternity that surpasses anything we can currently comprehend. We should become more like Him, because He is a part of us. It is Jesus who is always there. He's there in our life when our friends fail us; He's there when our health fails us; He's there when our finances fail us, and He's even there when we fail Him. What great love. The Spirit of God shares with us this earthly life we live. Through every victory and defeat, He walks the same road our feet trod. Through the cross, He showed us the goodness of God. Should it not be our desire to bring into the light this same goodness?
We live in a world full of people who need the love, forgiveness, and life-sharing companionship of a Savior. We live in a world that needs us to act like the disciples of Christ that God intends. A great picture of this in action is the graphic of the little girl walking with her arm around her friend. It's a selfless act, because she has nothing to gain. There's no one there to be impressed by her "Godly compassion." There's no one there to Facebook the moment. It's just her and a needy soul who needs love.
Life can be hard, and, like the picture, the road we travel can be a little desolate at times. The scenery may be beautiful, but the road is often lonely...and we need someone to come beside us in genuine love and give us a reason to believe in the goodness of God.
When my father had heart failure a few years ago, I arrived at Piedmont Hospital while an ambulance was still transferring my dad from another medical facility. I sat in the CCU waiting room completely alone. It was tough. The only comfort I felt through the uncertainty of that situation was Jesus, walking beside me, His arm around my shoulders...just me and Him. Shortly after I arrived, my good friends, Wally and Kelly Bryson walked in...and then my pastor, David Cofield. They made it to the hospital before my father even arrived. Elizabeth Wootten, Craig White, and so many more just showed up at a time I needed them the most. I received concerned calls, texts, and emails that entire afternoon and evening, some from people that I didn't even know. I didn't answer most of them, but I saw them...people, my friends, showing the goodness of God. These precious people will never know how much that meant. Their presence didn't take away my anxiety regarding my father's health, but their presence and calls of concern did relieve the loneliness of walking that road by myself, and almost every person referenced their prayers for me and my family – prayers to a God of goodness. They were showing me a reason to believe in the goodness of God. So often God shows His goodness to others by our actions. Those actions are powerful, healing, and they carry the weight of God's call on our life – a call to be Jesus to the world around us.
Look for reasons to join someone in their walk down a lonely road. You may not have the answers to address any aspect of their situation, but your compassionate and caring presence is a reflection of Jesus. Ultimately, although they may not even be aware, it is Jesus they are seeking. Be the individual who puts your arm around the shoulders of the hurting, not because you can necessarily help, but simply because you care. In this, we show the goodness of God.
Keith Beatty is a Worship, Missions and Media Pastor living in North Alabama. He's excited and very humbled to be a follower of Jesus Christ!