Who Pays the Cost of Freedom?

Memorial Day

I remember . . .

Standing on the cemetery lawn with my fellow citizens during Memorial Day. We gathered to honor and mourn our military veterans who’d given the ultimate sacrifice– their lives.

“Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13).

We’d each been given a red plastic Poppy to wear in remembrance. Gold Star moms and wives received corsages.

A guest speaker shared words from President Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address: “It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us . . . that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain.” 

Tears welled in my eyes as a seven-year-old boy helped his mom place a wreath on the War Memorial. They paused to gaze upon his father’s name now engraved in cold, black granite along with the names of other military veterans from our town who’d died in battle.

A twenty-one gun salute blasted the silence, followed by the somber notes of a bugler playing Taps. Then, the crowd gave an audible sigh as white doves were released from a cage and flew heavenward, a symbol of hope and peace.

After the ceremony, I walked between the graves of military veterans who’d survived the battlefields or served our country in peacetime. Each one who’d served had an American flag to mark the grave.

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Row after row…their headstones were lined up  like platoons awaiting inspection. Rank, name, military branch, and their years on earth now etched on flat, stone tablets instead of metal dog tags. Their lives summarized in epitaphs, their religious faith professed in symbols.

How could I not be touched or consider the cost of freedom?

But for every fallen hero or heroine, I particularly remember . . .

That seven year-old-boy who lost a father and will never hug him again. I remember the youthful mom who became a widow in the prime of life. I think about their extended family and the heartache that goes on and on. And I’m struck once again by the harsh, sad reality . . .

Freedom has a price tag, but deceased veterans aren’t the only ones who sacrifice and pay the cost. Family members have to learn how to ‘carry on’ without their loved one.

Memorial Day

So how can we remember and serve military families in a tangible way? 

“For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Galatians 5:13-14)

Here’s a website listing numerous military charities that offer a means of showing love and support.

Veteran and Military Charities

Are you a wounded warrior or married to one? Have you lost a family member who died serving his/her country?

What helps you cope, or encourages your heart?

How to be at peace when we pray

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Years ago, my teenage daughter had to deal with a conflict at school. I wanted to charge in, confront someone, and resolve the matter. But, I didn’t want to be hasty so I asked my spiritual mentor, Loretta, what I should do.

She looked me squarely in the eye and said, “You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in you, all whose thoughts are fixed on you!”

 “I know that Loretta,” I whined. “But, what should I do?”

“There you go again,” she said. “You always go back to the doing.”

I raised my eyebrows and waited for some practical advice.

She repeated Isaiah 26: 3, leaving a huge question mark in my mind. Could the answer be that simple? What if I actually applied that verse to my situation?

I opted to pray about my daughter’s conflict and wait for a green light despite the Tiger Mom in me growling to straighten everything out. When I kept my eyes on the Lord, my anger cooled and a soothing peace settled over me. I knew to not get involved. My daughter handled the matter on her own, and in the process I saw how God used that situation to work in her heart too.

Since then, I’ve had to apply this verse repeatedly—keeping my eyes on the Lord instead of my circumstances. And more recently, focusing on Him instead of my prayers. Here’s what happened:

Last night, my heart felt heavy because I’d spent much of the day fasting and praying for several people facing somber issues. When I told my husband how drained I felt, he said, “You don’t just pray for others, you absorb what’s going on in their lives even when they’re not related to you.”

“That’s true,” I said. “So why can’t I pray without feeling so desperate?”

“Because you feel responsible for the outcome!”

His comment was spot on. I’ve always felt responsible for my loved one’s well being and happiness. I try to fix them or improve a situation. So it makes sense that I pray for others with the same mindset. I want to control the outcome of my prayers. I want this person healed. That person to find a job. This person to draw near to God. That marriage restored. Despite my human limitations, I think I know what’s best for each person.

But what happens when God doesn’t answer my prayer requests that way that I’d like? It’s not just my disappointment and concern for the individual, there’s a part of me that wonders if I could have done something to make my prayers more effective. Maybe I should have fasted to show how important this means to me. Or, rounded up more prayer warriors to storm the heavens.

Then again . . .

  • What if I stopped praying as though the outcome of these prayers hinged on my efforts? 
  • What if I stopped praying to persuade God to do things my way and left the outcome in His capable, sovereign hands?
  • What if I interceded for others knowing God can use my prayers to change me too?
  • What if I trusted God to hear the cry of my heart as I laid these petitions at His feet?
  • What if I focused on the depth and breadth of God’s love for these people that I pray for instead of fixating on the length, depth, frequency of my prayers?
  • What if I believed God’s sees and knows it all. He’s got a plan for these folks that exceeds my imagination?

When I woke up this morning, my prayer requests still remain and the list continues to grow. But when I read Isaiah 26:3, I was reminded that I need to keep my eyes and thoughts on the Lord who is trustworthy and orchestrates a thousands details in people’s lives to achieve His purposes. Imagine the difference when I’m focused on Him instead of fixating on the prayer requests and their outcome.

God may not give me the answers I’m looking for when I pray, but He gives me what I need in that moment. He gives me His perfect peace. And I trust the Almighty God to breathe His peace into the people I pray for.

“I urge you, first of all, to pray for all people. Ask God to help them; intercede on their behalf, and give thanks for them” (1 Timothy 2:1 NLT).

Are You Grieving This Season?

I wrote this three years ago. I still think about the families who lost loved ones that year. And this December, I know several more families who are in the midst of grief. I pray these words encourage someone’s heart.

Even In This

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There’s a grief that can’t be spoken. There’s a pain goes on and on.”

Thus sings a young man (in the musical Les Miserables) after his friends have died in battle. And it was these heart-wrenching lyrics from the song Empty Chairs, Empty Tables that echoed in my mind as I drove to the airport a few days before Christmas.

Although I was over-the-moon excited to hug my son who was coming home for the holidays, my heart mourned for two moms who will never hug their sons this side of heaven.

A week earlier, their eighteen-year-old sons were killed in a vehicle accident while driving in our town. I didn’t know the young men. Never met the families. But my heart still aches like an open wound whenever I think of them; pray for them.

Sadly, they’re not alone this Christmas season. I have several friends who celebrated…

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Which Voice Do You Believe?

 

depression-1250897_640You know how it’s difficult to taste food when we have a head cold? Well, my horrible health during the winter months affected my senses. I could taste and see the Lord’s goodness in my friends’ gifts to me: cards, meals, prayers, visits. But I couldn’t feel God’s presence or hear His voice.

I might have cried, “God, why have you forsaken me?” But two things helped me tread the deep waters while I waited for my good health—and a renewed spirit.

1). I can’t trust my emotions, but I can trust God.

My mentor/friend, Loretta, once said, “I can’t count on my emotions when I’m feeling low.”

True. I’ve seen how my negative emotions make it impossible to think clearly. They can also steer me down a destructive path. Pity party. Hopelessness. Spiritual lethargy. Does anything good come from viewing life as a half-empty cup? Or questioning God’s goodness?

I learned to trust God back when I had three miscarriages. Satan (father of lies) took advantage of my grief. He filled my mind with doubts about God’s love for me. He accused me of being unworthy. Grief spiraled into despair. I had to sort through my emotions and identify the lies. And then, I renewed my mind with God’s truth.

I’m glad I learned that lesson because this year, when God seemed silent while I lay ill, I refused to trust my emotions or listen to the enemy’s lies. Instead, I trusted God’s character and His promises.

Throughout scripture, the Lord tells His children: Do not be afraid. I am with you. You are mine. You are loved.

I choose the voice I listen to.

2). I can’t manufacture spiritual highs, but I can believe God.

Being ill is part of the human experience. I was willing to endure anything if only I could sense God’s comforting presence. I prayed for His peace and joy to buoy my spirits while my body healed. I read Psalms. I listened to praise music. But for all my efforts, I could not manufacture that mountain top high, or afterglow, that comes from spending time with God.

So I stopped trying so hard to hear God’s voice. If I didn’t have the energy to walk, or the ability to concentrate, then I needed to give my spirit permission to rest. And be comfortable with God’s silence. Knowing this too shall pass.

Spiritual disciplines like prayer and Bible reading are opportunities to meet with God and hear His voice. But God doesn’t ask us to jump through hoops (or bust a gut) to get His attention. He sees us. He knows our name. He knows when our health suffers.

God says, “Believe.” Believe I’m present. Believe I love you. Believe I can use all things (even the silence) for your good and My glory.

Which voice do I believe?

Who do you listen to and believe when you’re going through a trial?

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Do You Believe God when He’s Silent?

Life happens. One Saturday, I’m hosting a baby shower for my pregnant daughter. My heart bursting with joy. Monday, a week later, I’m in the hospital with a heart monitor tracking my pulse. Extensive tests showed one of my arteries needed a stent.

“Not fair!” I whined. “I did all the right things. Ate healthy. Exercised. Didn’t smoke. Kept my weight down. I can’t believe this is happening.”

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When the shock wore off, I said, “Could be worse! Thank God, He showed me a problem before I had a major heart attack.”

Life got worse.

Angioplasty went fine, but another health issue plagued me. Thanksgiving and the Christmas season came and went without fanfare while I languished. Unable to travel and be with family, I stayed home with my husband, wondering what the new year would bring. Would I be healthy in time to travel for the birth of our first grandchild?

Every week, there were doctor appointments and medical tests. Every day, I woke up nauseous and faced my demons including fear, anxiety, despair.

I didn’t ask God why I was ill. I could point to people worse off than me. But, I did ask when will this be over? Will I ever get well?

Like the sick woman in the crowd who reached out and touched Jesus’ cloak, I’d raise my hands to heaven and pray for healing. However, I also prayed God would use my circumstances to teach me His lessons and change me.

I didn’t realize how long the lessons would take.

Two months is a long time to wait for healing and wonder if you’ll ever feel healthy again. I had to rest. Pray for patience. Contentment. God’s peace.

I had to let go and submit to whatever God allowed in my life if it was for my good … because sometimes a person’s heart needs more than a stent to make it healthy.

During those long winter nights, and grey rainy days, I’d listen to praise music. I’d count my blessings. I’d read my Bible. Hoping to sense God’s presence and experience His joy.

I was doing all the “right things,” but the joy of the Lord alluded me, despite my willingness to physically suffer if only my heart could sing.

Even worse—-God was silent. I could not sense His comfort or presence no matter how hard I tried.

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The only thing I could do when my emotions flatlined was to TRUST God’s promises. “I will never leave you or forsake you.”

I had to BELIEVE God was with me and ignore my feelings. Knowing physical pain effects my mood and emotions. Knowing the enemy loves to make me believe God doesn’t care.

Like the Apostle John, I’d lean into Jesus’ bosom. I’d envision His arms holding me, carrying me when I had no energy to walk.

“Without faith, it is impossible to please God, for whoever would approach Him must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who seek Him.” (Hebrews 11:6)

Faith to endure. To trust Him no matter what.

Was that the lesson I needed to learn?

A week ago, a few hours prior to another medical procedure, I was inundated by people’s text messages and emails. They asked about my health, told me they were praying. Many of them didn’t know about my procedure. So I knew the Lord had laid me on their hearts to encourage me.

When I left home for the hospital, I also received a card in the mail from a new-found friend who wrote, “Pain–it’s hard to endure, but He is with you.”

I pressed the card to my heart. Joy bubbled inside me. For the first time in two months, I felt God’s tangible presence. For I knew in the depths of my stent-filled heart, the Spirit of God had roused His saints and used them to show me,

He Cares and is with me…even in this.