Sunday, October 12, 2008

"I Still Have...

... my arms." Lt. N

The past two full days here in the Hill Country have been heart-felt, heart-changing, and heart-filled.

Families who arrived here broken in body and spirit have smiled, laughed, danced with titanium legs (or for Lt. N who lost both his legs in Iraq in May and is still waiting to be fitted) even wheelchairs.

I have seen angry hurting and confused children make new friends, giggle at silly jokes (yesterday we gave out certificates for things like the longest tongue, and blinking the fastest) and play like there was no tomorrow.

Some of the wounds are very evident. There are many amputees, and burn victims, but there are also Traumatic Brain Injuries (from IED blasts) that leave the soldiers with symptoms as varied as short and long term memory loss, to affected speech.

The first morning the Chaplain shared of one soldier who sent his wife and daughters but did not want to come because he is tragically disfigured over 97% of his body after being burned by steam in the boiler room of the ship he was serving on. His efforts (and those of his mates) saved the ship and the lives of the other men, but... his injury does cause stares he has not grown used to.

I sat with his wife and daughters (unknowingly at breakfast that morning) and his wife said "I wish my husband could be here because it is such a blessing - but... he is afraid of how people will react". While I was at the table he called and she said enough of the right things to give him the needed incentive and by dinner he had joined his family.

Tonight as the evening program was coming to an end - the parents were picking up the children from our program and allowing them to swim and splash in the pool one last time. I saw the wife of Lt. N and commented on the change I witnessed in her 11 year old daughter.

At first she stood back away from the table where I was seated, agreed she had seen a change, but added "We have changed too". By this time Lt. N had rolled inside and was playing Scrabble and laughing. She sat down, looked inside and said, "I have never seen him open up like this. But more than that I have never felt God this close. I knew He was looking out for me when He let my husband live, but here I have seen Him and His love for us."

For an hour, I listened to her story. She shared her heartbreak and her anger, and then she spoke of the first time her daughters saw their dad after his injury. "They were scared, and I was too at first. There were tubes coming out of every part of his body. My youngest (6) just stood behind me afraid she would hurt him. Then he said, "come here honey, come sit on the bed". My daughter backed further away until her daddy held his arms open wide and said "look, I don't have my legs but I still have my arms. I can still give you a big hug".

That was all it took, for the love of a father to be communicated to his child.

I have often seen that gesture (arms stretched open) to communicate the message of God's love for us by the outstretched arms of His only Son on the cross. But tonight - as I heard a wife and mother's story, I confess it took on a new dimension and depth of meaning.

The courage and sacrifice among these soldiers is humbling. The price they paid for my freedom - the freedom to share God's love and travel around the world to do so makes me even more grateful and determined to take NOTHING for granted.

There has been great sacrifice and blood shed on foreign soils through many years for our freedom. But an even greater sacrifice and precious blood shed on a cross for love.

"If that isn't love the ocean is dry, there's no stars in the sky and the eagle can't fly. If that isn't love then heaven's a myth, there's no feeling like this, if that isn't love"

God has blessed this time, God has blessed this place. God bless America and those who fight to keep us free!

In His service patriotically