When I was in Hawaii, I played some music and shared some stories with military wives. While I was sharing those stories, a memorial service was being rehearsed for a man who lost his life.
Sergeant Kevin White, 22, from Westfield, New York. He had already served 15 months in Iraq and had only been in Afghanistan for little over a week. At 22, he had already earned numerous awards, including bronze stars and service stars- he had seen the world- he had been a part of Operation Enduring Freedom since he left High School.
It was his memorial service.
While we laughed in one room, they shot guns off twenty feet from us, preparing to honor another fallen friend.
So the gun shots- the taps- they started going off during one of my stories.
The women in the room visibly shuttered. Some of them welling up with tears, others a bit stone faced, still others shaking their heads with a sense of deep sadness.
My voice quivered and tears ran down my face. Maybe this was normal for them, but it's been a long time since I've felt the power of a gun- much less numerous guns- shake the ground around me. Each shot was torture. Each shot was an unbearable reality of a man much too young to die. Each shot made my soul hurt. Please Lord, please make it stop. And I wondered about the preschool and elementary kids just around the corner... did they shudder and wonder whose mommy or daddy died? Or was hearing taps like hearing a car honk at a bad driver?
I got control of my tears. I finished my story. We kept going.
I got to the middle of the last song- everything rides on hope now, everything rides on faith somehow
When the world has broken
Your love sets me
I couldn't sing. My voice was lost...This time I had little control. Tears slid off my face and a deep sense of the reality, the loss, the sadness, the cost of war seeped into my very bones. The taps were tearing through my heart. The room swelled with tears and hushed reverence; not just for the man, but for the God who says keep believing when believing in a cruel world makes no sense.
I couldn't sing- but the song was not finished- so I did the only thing in that moment that had true power.
I picked up scripture and began to read Psalms 23.
The Lord is my Shepherd. I shall not want. He makes me to lie down in green pastures. He leads me by still waters. He restores my soul...
And though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.
For you are with me.
Be with us God- I begged. Be near us God. Carry us God. Lead us beside still waters. Restore us.
We sang Revelation Song- a chorus of beautiful voices raised in grief for what is broken and in worship for what shall be restored.
Later, we ate cupcakes on the very porch where the men and women practiced taps and the folding of the flag. We laughed. Took pictures. And I signed autographs. They all seemed like silly things to me after the range of emotions and worship I had just experienced.
But after a whirlwind of pain, we often find ourselves smack down in the midst of the ordinariness of the real world. It seems cruel sometimes. One minute their will be a casket in a chapel or church- the next minute- the kids in daycare are running through the same room with kool aid and goldfish- unaware that the room just held death. But once our eyes adjust to reality- like we have gone from the sun into a dark room- we somehow find a way to reorient ourselves to the new map- and we keep going. We eat cupcakes. And sip wine. And worship with our voices. And shop at Target.
We keep living.
I asked Melissa in the car ride home, "How do you do this? How do you hear taps and not have a meltdown? How do you live like this?"
"At a certain point, if it's not your husband- well-," she hesitated and breathed a deep breath as we turned the corner to the grocery store, "It's not your husband."
To all the men, women, and children who live a life of service to our country- a life that is hard for the average American to grasp until we get a first hand encounter- thank you. This Memorial Day weekend we remember you and wish for you to feel honored, appreciated, and uplifted. For the sacrifices- both past and present that have led to freedom- we are humbled and grateful.
PBS has the most comprehensive list of organizations supporting our troops. From donating old cell phones, airline miles, rebuilding homes for wounded veterans, or sending a child to camp, there are numerous organizations represented here who are walking alongside military families to provide support and encouragement. PBS also does an incredible tribute to the troops each year at the National Memorial Concert in Washington, D.C.
Really... seriously... check the links out people... yes, even you non-military, non-violence loving peeps of mine!!!
It's as easy as writing a card or babysitting for a military wife so she can have a night off. Setting up a jar at your local church or school for military wives/husbands who have a deployed spouse and need something fixed around the house. You will find these great ideas and more on the PBS, Support the Troops, portion of the website.
But the most important thing you can do- if you are a parent- is to educate your children. Ever been to a Memorial Day service in your hometown? Bring the kids and explain why we stop to honor those who serve our country. When you see men and women in uniform take a minute to explain to your kids who they are and why they are important. If your kids are older, you can even explain that in some countries, the military uses their guns and power to hurt their own people, but we are lucky to live in a country where the military takes care of the people here and around the world. Tell your children about anyone in your family who may have served in a past war- go as far back as possible- and tell the kids what that person did and what they may have seen. Help the kids write a letter and bput together a box for the someone serving, help them understand what it might be like to be in a different country away from their family. What would they want to get in a care package? Let them pick it out themselves at the store!
The options for teaching our children are limitless! We can raise a new generation of kids who understand the sacrifices made and honor those who make them.
Other people doing amazing work within military communities:
The problems and struggles of military teens are similar to those of the typical teenager, but intensified because of their context. Military installations, even in the United States, are often isolated. Military teens are frequently uprooted from familiar settings and replanted in a foreign country with language, culture and customs they don't understand. Further, the heightened pace of military operations in the Middle East has meant more frequent and longer absences from the home, creating temporary single parent homes for the majority of military families for at least a third of any given year.
At Military Community Youth Ministries, we believe that there is a great need to be available for these young people, to build meaningful, no-strings-attached relationships with them. We believe that one of the best ways to help military kids is to affirm them and be available to celebrate life with them. Toward this end, MCYM staff and volunteers seek to love teens unconditionally and provide a model of Christian hope in our military communities through weekly Club and fun activities. In the field, our ministry is usually know as Club Beyond®.
The Protestant Women of the Chapel International is a resource network that unites, trains and encourages women in the military chapel community in their spiritual growth. PWOC is God empowered, Christ centered and Spirit led; exists as an extension of the chapel; encourages women to grow spiritually within the body of Christ through prayer, the study of God's Word, worship and service; is sponsored by the Army Chief of Chaplains and is recognized by the leadership of the Air Force, Navy, Marine and Coast Guard Chaplaincy.