A few months ago, I sat in a crowded room with the families of marine personnel who had been, or were going to be, deployed in Iraq. My husband, a naval reserve chaplain, was holding a briefing for the families. His job, along with another officer, was to answer questions regarding the condition of servicemen and women, and to give assurance of available services to them during the absence of their loved ones.
Shortly into the briefing, families began stating their concerns. One grandmother was concerned that her grandson would not get his birthday gift by the actual date. Another mother and father complained that their son’s morale was down because he was still at Camp Lejeune, N.C., and not fighting in Iraq. The mother stated that since her son was not allowed to have a car, he was bored and thought that the base should supply shuttle services to the mall. One mother questioned the exact location of her son because he had not written back. She had his address, listing only his company. "Where is he?" she asked.
These people were extremely irritated and I guess, on a normal day, their concerns would have been valid. But not that day! On that day, we were in a war, and to me, their concerns seemed so trivial!
Sitting next to me was a Vietnam veteran, a former officer in a secret forces regiment, whose daughter was presently deployed in Iraq. He remarked, "I know that the chaplain and officer standing there have a job to be nice to the families, but these people are being unrealistic in their demands. We can’t know everything. This is war! People are going to die and they don’t have a clue!"
He wasn’t belittling the families, for he and his wife were one of those families. Yet, sitting there with his prosthesis attached at the hip, he knew the cost of war. Looking at the leg he lost in battle, he said calmly, "We just need to pray."
Right! The officers were so patient and kind to the families. However, the kinder they were, the more demanding the families became. They were hurting and afraid, and had, somehow, obliterated from their minds the horrific battle that was waging as we spoke.
I had not. I panicked every time my husband got a call from his unit. He was on alert and I thought that he might be called up for active duty. Even then, as he stood before us in his camouflage uniform, I could smell the scent of death. The tight security and barbed wire that now barricaded the usually relaxed military facility where we met gave a cruel hint of the severity of this crisis. The cold, harsh images constantly bombarding the screen on CNN made the brutality of war an apparent reality to me.
UMNS photo courtesy Chaplain Mitchell Lewis
Soldiers gather for worship near the Baghdad airport.
I could not feel, as some did, that "gung ho" feeling of "let’s go over there and teach them a lesson." I was still praying desperately for God’s intervention to totally end the war. I wanted my husband, and every other soldier, here and alive.
As my eyes roamed the room, I looked into the saddened faces of the children. The adults, so busy complaining, did not notice the fear in their children’s eyes. Birthday gifts and low morale meant nothing. They wanted and needed hope, hope of one day seeing and holding their parents once again.
So, even though I was unfamiliar with protocol and felt sure that the chaplain’s wife should probably not speak, I decided to request permission anyway. It was granted.
After telling the families how much I empathized with them, and thanking them for their loved ones who were placing their lives on the line for my protection and freedom, I shared personal thoughts.
I told the grandmother that it would be a blessing if her son actually received his gift an entire year late because that meant that he was still alive a year later and by then, the war might be over. I told the concerned parents that their son might be better off bored at the base than fighting on some mine field in Iraq. Then, I reminded the other mother that her son had gone off to war, not college.
I asked the Vietnam veteran to share his story. Afterwards, I told them that we needed to pray that God would end this war swiftly and bring our troops home safely. The war is formally over, but there are still service men and women deployed abroad in dangerous areas.
So, this Thanksgiving, as we sit at our tables, enjoying our freedoms, feasting on our turkeys and hams, complaining about President Bush and whether or not the war was justified, or the Democratic debates, or whether or not we‘ll have enough money to sinfully "buy Christmas" for our children, remember to pray for the soldiers who are still in some faraway land trying to establish peace.
Let us pray that we may remember the hundreds of men and women who died this year in battle. Pray for the children who will never get the opportunity to grow up in the loving arms of the parents who gave their lives so that we might have that freedom to sit at the table this Thanksgiving and complain.
If we continually pray, God will "hear our prayer and pay attention."
Let us come into His courts with thanksgiving and praise, for regardless of our situations, we are blessed.
"Thanks be to God."