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Monday, June 8, 2009

Here I Am

Bible studies, movies and Bar-B-Ques might not always go together but I think it was the perfect way to spend Memorial Day.

Jim and I feel it is very important to teach the kids (and re-teach ourselves) the importance of the meaning behind Memorial Day. We honor their dad everyday, I hope. Yet on Memorial Day it seemed more important than ever to pause and talk about it a little more extensively. That morning, Jim gathered us all together and opened the Bible to Hebrews. I hadn’t a clue where he was going with this one but for our family it was perfect not only for Memorial Day but for the crazy God-filled week that followed.

Much of Hebrews teaches us about the comparisons between Old Testament ways and the New Testament WAY (Christ). God ordered things just a certain way under Old Testament Law to help the people ritually cleanse themselves from sin. If you have studied about the Old Testament Tabernacle you know the Lord specifically laid out the set up: two rooms, the outer and inner with the lampstand, altar, oil, consecrated bread, etc… each in their own designated spot. A curtain separated the rooms and only the high priest once a year, after numerous ceremonial washings and carrying the blood of only the most flawless and unblemished goat or calf could enter in. He went to God on behalf of himself and all the people to ask God for forgiveness of sins. I don’t think we can imagine what a huge production this was year after year because as New Testament believers He has never asked us to undergo such stringent practices. But God Himself knew this wasn’t the “final answer”.

Hebrews 8:5
“They serve at a sanctuary that is a copy and shadow of what is in heaven.”
And He knew it wasn’t good enough to bring us into His presence for eternity.

Hebrews 8:7
“For if there had been nothing wrong with that first covenant, no place would have sought for another.” God sent Christ, His Son, THE unblemished One, to be the final answer.

Hebrews 10: 4-7
“…because it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. Therefore when Christ came into the world, He said: “Sacrifice and offering You did not desire, but a body You prepared for me; with burnt offerings and sin offerings You were not pleased. Then I said, “Here I am-it is written about me in the scroll- I have come to do your will, O God.”

That was our lesson for Memorial Day. Obviously, in a much different way, those who volunteer to serve their country and put themselves in harm’s way and sacrifice things very dear to them, often the ultimate, on the behalf of others (most of the rest of us) mimic that same spirit as Christ. Those men and women stand up and say, “Here I am”.

Lyrics from the song “Here I Am” by the Christian group, Downhere, immediately come to mind:

Sometimes your calling, comes in dreams
Sometimes in comes in the Spirit's breeze,
You reach for the deepest hope in me,
And call out for the things of eternity.

But I'm a man, of dust and stains,
You move in me, so I can say,

Here I am, Lord send me,
All of my life, I make an offering,
Here I am, Lord send me,
Somehow my story, Is a part of your plan,
Here I am

When setbacks and failures, and upset plans,
Test my faith and leave me with empty hands,
Are you not the closest when it's hardest to stand?
I know that you will finish what you began.

These broken parts you redeem,
Become the song, that I can sing

Here I am, Lord send me,
All of my life, I make an offering,
Here I am, Lord send me,
Somehow my story, Is a part of your plan,
Here I am

Overwhelmed by the thought of my weakness,
And the fear that I'll fail you in the end,
In this mess, I'm just one of the pieces,
I can't put this together but you can.

Here I am, Lord send me,
I wanna live my life as an offering
Here I am, Lord send me,
Somehow my story, Is part of your plan,
Here I am

Here I am, all my life an offering to you, to you
Somehow my story, Is a part of your plan,
Here I am

I wanted the kids to comprehend that Memorial Day commemorates not only their dad but all those that died that in the line of duty. I received a touching and convicting email from General Rand, our family friend, and I asked him if I could share a part of it. His military career and life experience have given him the perspective we all need. He says:

“ Unfortunately, we really have "lost the bubble" on Memorial Day. We use it as the official kick off to the summer, going to the beach, vacations, rock concerts, etc. I fell into that trap when I was at Kunsan by endorsing block party functions over Memorial Day, similar to what we did during all the other long 3 or 4 day weekends (Fourth of July, Labor day, etc). Very little focus was on the true meaning of Memorial Day. Learned from that mistake, and toned things down significantly while I was the Commander at Luke, and by the time I was at Balad as the Wing Commander. I fully appreciated how Memorial Days should be celebrated. Our Memorial Day that year in Iraq wasn't celebrated with brats, hot dogs, burger burns, keggers, softball tourneys, outdoor concerts, or pool parties. Instead, in May 2007, we had a 24 hour vigil with volunteer airmen guarding our small Memorial wall in honor of all fallen airmen during OIF, in addition to a solemn service in a big tent that held 500+ warriors who gathered to reflect and remember. On the stage were nine empty chairs....eight chairs representing the eight airmen the 332 AEW had lost from Memorial Day 2006 to the Memorial Day 2007,and one chair representing all the soldiers, marines, and sailors who had died during that same period. After that service and over the next three weeks, five more 332 AEW airmen, and over 100 soldiers and marines were killed in Iraq. Prior to my tour in Iraq, I thought I had a healthy appreciation for what Memorial Day meant, but will now admit it is crystal clear. This week I was hosting a delegation of Israelis at a lunch. Somehow, at my table we got on the subject of how our countries treat their respective Memorial Days. In Israel, it is the day before their Independence Day, and it is a time of serious National mourning and reflection. Stores and all public businesses are closed. No parties, and not not an excuse to just get a day off from work. Without any prompting from me, one of my Israeli colleagues who I have gotten to know fairly well over the past two years described the difference between Israel's Memorial Day and the United States Memorial Day. Here is what he said, "in Israel we don't use it as an opportunity to party, go to the beach, or have bargain sales like America does." He didn't mean it as a slam. It's been my experience that Israelis are straight talkers who tell you how they feel. In this case, he was sadly correct. I was ashamed, and all I could think to say was, "one of the unfortunate things about freedom, especially in America, is that it allows people to act really stupid."

Powerful words, I know. Words to make you stop and think. And though I will never be thankful that one of those empty chairs that day in Balad was for my husband, I will always be thankful that he was not forgotten.

Not forgetting who he was. Who those that have suffered and died are. That’s exactly what we talked about with the kids that morning sitting on the bed with the Bible open. We also talked about other’s, especially Andrea’s, willingness to serve Christ and tell Him, “Here I am, Lord, even in the midst of a bunch a circumstances I despise, ready to lay down my desires for Yours and still give You all the glory along the painful way.” Without ever personally speaking to Andrea, I know those were her heart’s words.

I have given lots of thought these past two and a half years since Troy died to what he would have liked to have happened after he was gone. I believe that is one of the ways I can honor him most. He would have loved the family devotion time we had on Memorial Day morning. Jim brought me breakfast in bed so I could spent some quiet time before the poignant day began. Troy would have done the same. He would have spent time with the kids, which we did. We took them to the movies and laughed. We came home and swam together. Troy was a good swimmer and loved to play in the water with the kids. We cooked burgers and hot dogs. Despite us packing out in a month to move, Jim re-hung the American flag whose brackets’ had been blown down in a storm months prior. It was a nice normal day. Troy would have wanted that for us.

The next morning we woke up and dressed the kids nicely, loaded them in the car and went to the courthouse. Before God, a courtroom full of people (we all didn’t fit in the judges chambers and also were on the docket with other folks – one in handcuffs- which made the whole thing somewhat of a field trip to our wide-eyed children), the lawyer and the judge, Jim raised his right hand and officially adopted all five of Troy’s precious children. As we explained to the kids the day prior during devotion, Jim has grasped the baton from Troy and continued running the race of taking care of his family on his behalf. Jim standing before God and saying, “Lord, here I am.”

Just a couple of days after that, Boston, ended up in the ER from passing out after a vaccination. He complained of his back hurting from how he fell so they stabilized him on the floor with a neckbrace and backboard to be transported to the nearest hospital in the effort to take all precautions necessary had there been spinal injury. Praise God his back is fine. He was scared though. More scared than I have ever seen him. I, along with his brothers, sisters and a team of medical staff were hovered over him, staring at him and waiting for the ambulance. Boston was crying softly. I am crying imagining the worst. Jim walks in, smiling, caring, assessing the situation, confident that everything was going to be fine and then all of the sudden just lays right down there on that hard hospital tile floor next to Boston so he didn’t feel so all alone. That thought never occurred to me. Something a dad would do, I guess. His presence there in that room and on that floor I could see put Boston a little more at ease. The nurse had Troy’s social security number so I had to explain that whole thing to her which made me cry even more. Praise the Lord for Jim stepping into the room that day and most of all stepping into our lives. I cannot think of any better ways for Jim to honor Troy’s memory on Memorial Day.

I have asked other widows and mothers who have lost their sons how they have remembered the lives of their lost loved ones with the things they now do. I found some real inspiration in their answers.

My friend, Roxanne, lost her husband, David, in his mid-forties, a couple of years ago. He died instantly of a sudden heart attack while driving and left her with 7 children. Her husband each year took the older kids on mission trips to Mexico to help build housing. Though Roxanne was way out of her element, just this Spring, she loaded up the next ones that he would have taken and they hammered their hearts out building houses in the heart of Mexico in honor of what he would have continued to do had he lived.

Patti, a fellow F-16 widow and author herself, lost her husband, Marc, over the waters of the Adriatic Sea years ago. She says her husband was “amusical” but desired for their children to have the exposure to music he never had. So she put all three of them in piano lessons. Her only daughter has not only won musical competitions now but has plans to make music her education and career. Her oldest son is now at the Air Force Academy, like his dad. And he just moved into his father’s former squadron to keep that family connection there alive, though he has few actual memories of his daddy. Patti, a health nut, says every year she takes the kids out for a greasy burger and milkshake, their dad’s favorites, to honor him in a fun way. But my favorite of all of Patti’s tributes is she has highlighted in blue in her Bible all the verses her husband had highlighted in his. As she reads, she is reminded on her husband’s passion for God’s Word. I am going to do that myself! Thank you Patti!

My friend, Debbie, lost her son, Marc, in Iraq. He was the first Navy Seal killed in the war. She now travels the country telling his heroic story and passionately speaks out for troop’s rights, just as her son would have wanted her to do.

Memorial Day is especially difficult for Troy’s parents, Kaye and Ron. They are proud yet they are so sad. This year, they first spent time with some good friends. How they met this couple has God’s fingerprints all over it. Right after Troy was killed, Kaye was at the Wal-Mart photo center making copies of pictures of Troy. She was utterly broken and bitter, justifiably so. She was hurting so badly she found it difficult to reach out to anyone as they simply could not have understand the level of her grief. The woman standing behind her that day, gently asked who Kaye was making pictures of. They began talking and this woman, Carol, told her she had lost her daughter as well. She now worked at Hospice and helped people in their grief. God sent Kaye powerful tangible evidence of His love for her that day at Wal-Mart when she needed it most. Now, years later, they played cards and cooked out on Memorial Day. Troy had specifically told me before he died how much his mom needed a good friend there in Wichita Falls. And not to mention, the only game I could ever get him to play was cards! That was fitting! Then on Memorial Day, Troy’s parents always attend a service at a military cemetery if they can’t be in Arlington. She talks with others who have lost loved ones, decades ago and recently. She hears from others all over the world who attend services where Troy’s name is mentioned and his heroism remembered. She says after speaking to others, she is again reminded of how very honored and lucky a woman she is to have had a son like that. To quote her own emailed words to me, “Never dreamed he would be a hero to this nation. Knew he was always my hero.”

Troy’s sister, Rhonda and her husband Shane were just blessed with the birth of precious twin baby boys. After many many years of infertility, Troy knew they longed for children. They came to visit us on Memorial Weekend. We got to hold those sweet babies, our nephews. Though Troy never got to meet them, I know he must have been smiling from above (maybe laughing too!) as Jim, after over twenty years of NOT holding a newborn, sheepishly first held his nephews. By the end Jim was a pro, carrying them both in his arms and singing lullabies into their tiny ears. They handed me the birth announcement, which took my breath away. A close up profile shot of the babies facing one another, hands entertwined, asleep. With their names written underneath “Landon Troy and Colton Lee”, named after the loving uncle they would never know . Shane purposely positioned them in the photo so that when their middle names were printed on the birth announcement it would prominently read “Troy Lee”. What a thoughtful tribute, Shane.

There are so many other stories. Ways those of us left behind, try to fill the big shoes of those who have gone Home.

I will keep the snowboard, hunting rifles and mountain bikes from getting too rusty and will make sure Troy’s sons know about the things he enjoyed. Just as Jim will continue to remind his sons of Andrea’s love of cooking and gardening and studying the Word. We do what we can. Most of all we will make sure they remember them by remembering the One they loved most.

1 comment:

  1. What a wonderful post Ginger - so touching to read so long after Memorial Day has passed, but always remembering our dear friends! I am so thankful the kids have a wonderful father to carry on the role Troy was taken from! You all are a precious family!!