Monday, May 25, 2009

The Veteran in the Parking Lot

It was a few weeks ago, early evening. The air was crisp, the temperatures mild, and it was a perfect night for a stroll through the blooming desert.

My family and I had just left Baskin Robbins with our favorite of 31 flavors piled atop sugar cones.

We decided to eat our ice cream while we walked around the outdoor shopping center, and as we walked and laughed, the kids climbed every rock and wall they could find!
Our hearts were merry and light.

Then I saw something that brought it all to a halt.

There was an older man, in his 70s or 80s, who had stopped dead in his tracks. He had just come out of the grocery store, and his cart was piled high with food. Yet, there he stood....frozen in the middle of the parking lot.

I knew something was desperately wrong. His body language told me so.Then I saw him stoop over....

I pointed him out to Shane, and said, "We need to see if he needs help! Honey, something is wrong..he's walking away from his basket full of groceries. He's leaving them right there in the middle of the parking lot! We need to go see what he needs!"
It all happened so quickly. All four of us fell into step and headed right for the man.

A million thoughts were running through my head.

Was he having a heart attack? A stroke?

Did he lose his wallet?

Was the basket too hard to push?

What in the world was wrong?

Then I saw it.

I realized what had happened to him.

My heart raced.

My eyes filled with tears.

And I knew in a moment that my family would be there for him.

We'd help this dear man in any way that he'd let us.

You see, the reason he had stooped down....

The reason he had stopped dead in his tracks....

The reason he was leaving all of his groceries in the middle of the parking lot...

was because he had found an American flag lying on the filthy ground, and in that moment, taking care of her became vastly more important to him than anything else he needed to do.

I wish you could have seen how lovingly this gentleman handled her, how gingerly he lifted her from the oil-stained ground into his caring hands.

Oh, how he looked at Old Glory and treated her with such love, such tenderness.

Looking into his eyes as he held the dirty, tire-marked flag, I could imagine the thoughts running through his head...

It was as though, as he surveyed each dirty stripe, each oil-stained star, he was remembering another friend, another comrade in arms, whom he had lost in battle.

"Sir, is there anything we can do to help you?" I asked.

He paused a moment, as though trying to read whether or not we would treat his flag with the same respect he had for her, and then without really looking at us, he proceeded,
"I've got to take this flag inside. Someone just threw it out!"

"We can do that for you, sir. If you'll let us have it, we'll take care of it."

"It's not supposed to be treated like this," he said, as he tried in vain to clean the flag with his handkerchief.

"Yes, sir. We agree."

Then he lifted his head, taking his eyes off of the flag for the first time, and looked us in the eyes and asked, "Will you clean it up?"

"Yes, sir. You have our word on it. We'll wash it, and then we'll hang it properly."

"Good...that would be good," he said, still in deep thought about his flag, and likely trying to determine how anyone could have thrown her into a parking lot, to be trampled.
"Sir, may I ask you, did you serve?"

"Yes ma'am, I did. Special Forces."

"Was it in Korea?"

"Yes, Korea."

I have a dear friend whose father served in Korea. He calls it the forgotten war.
The next time you meet a gentleman in his 70s - 80s, whom you know served, ask him if it was in Korea. You won't believe the appreciation that will shine from his eyes, a thank you for your recognition.

At that point, I looked to Caedmon and Brennan and said, "Children, what do we tell our veterans?"

"Thank you, sir. Thank you for fighting for our freedom," Caedmon said.

"Thank you, sir. Thank you for serving, thank you for our freedom," Brennan added.

He stood, quiet. He looked Shane over real well, and then he gave me a good visual evaluation, still trying to determine if we were genuine, it seemed.

From what I could see from where I stood, I'm positive that his dusty gray eyes were watering behind his glasses.

Then he said, in a kind but firm voice, "You all have done a good job. A really good job."

"Thank you, sir. We want our children to know that their freedom comes with a price."

"Yes, a high price...a very high price," he confirmed, still shaking his head over the plight of his flag.

We spoke for a few more minutes, and Shane and I thanked him too. Then we parted ways.
He returned to his groceries, and we left with the treasure that he had entrusted to us.

The flag sat on top of the washing machine for a few days, and each day my children would remind me, "Mommy, we have to wash it. We have to take care of it. We promised the veteran!"
So we did. We ceremoniously washed the old flag. We sprayed her with lots of stain remover, and we washed her on the delicate cycle with our best laundry soap.

Even after lots of work to her, many of the tire marks and stains remain.

The reminders of someone's carelessness just won't come out.

Regardless, she now hangs proudly over Shane's work bench.

We see her every day, and she's been a source of many rich conversations about our friend the Korean War Veteran, and about our freedom.
I wonder if the kindly gentleman has any idea what a rich lesson he gave to our kiddos that day?

Oh goodness, he gave it to all four of us, really! And now, he's giving it to you...

I wonder if he has any idea how thankful we are for the sacrifice he paid? For the continual sacrifices paid by our service men and women, and their families?

"Thank you" just doesn't seem enough.

Will you thank a veteran today? Would you please step outside of your comfort zone and tell a veteran, or a serviceman or woman how much you value their sacrifice?

Yes, you'll feel awkward. But do it anyway!

Think about how much they've had to step outside of their comfort zones.

That should help.


Laura said...

My Great Uncle on my mother's side served in Korea. You are right, no one talks about that war. I was a grown woman before I even knew he had been in combat. He didn't talk about it until recently and claimed it was one of the major reasons he questions the existence of God. Such savagery and death that my uncle renounced his Baptist heritage for many years.

Six years ago, he witnessed the birth of his great-granddaughter. In the delivery room, he made the statement "that was incredible. There must be a God." This act (along with others I'm sure) have helped him begin to question again the purpose of life and the need for a creator. Please pray for him and those who will need to answer his questions about death and destruction and the love of God in it all.

You should know I hold the flag in highest honor as well. My kids have seen me shake the hand of veterans and those in uniform, I've gotten pretty good at holding my tears until I've walked away, but the kids always see and ask why I'm crying. That usually brings more sobs and the explanation doesn't seem to be enough to convey the gratitude I have in my heart for selfless that goes largely unrecognized in our current world.

I have your example as my inspiration to continue to seek to thank those who will never be the same for their time spent in service to our nation and our God.

p.s. Thanks for another good cry!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this story! This has been the most heartfelt Memorial Day I have ever had, and this post was a great ending to it!

Last night in church, we honored those who have sacrificed for our freedom. Our pastor taught on John 15:13, "Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends."

Then the pastor of the deaf church gave his testimony about losing his son in Afghanistan 7 years ago and how he and his wife had to make the choice early on to either be bitter, or to accept and wait to see what God had in store. The chose to accept, and his testimony was about the things a loving God has done since their tragedy.

After having just spent a few precious days with my two sons - just them, their dad and me - and being keenly aware that the time with them alone was a precious gift from God, I cried thoughout this mans powerful testimony.

And God put my two cousins and my friend from work on my hearts right in the middle of that testimony and today I wrote to them and told them thank you for raising selfless sons to fight for my earthly freedom. And also what a remarkable act of faith that had to be for them to trust God to bring them home safely (which He did).

Our pastor reminded us that our servicemen and women gave their lives for my earthly freedom, and Jesus gave His life for my eternal freedom. Even today I cannot write this comment without tears.

My father was in WWII. He wanted to talk about WWII more than he ever wanted to talk about anything else in this life. So for the 4 years I took care of him before he died, I indulged him and kept him talking - and the more he talked, the more I learned about his own insecurities and doubts about his eternal destination.

I spent hour after hour after hour listening to him relive it all. I knew instinctively how he needed to talk. I let him talk himself right into my pastor's office where my pastor spent numerous times answering important questions for my dad about God, life, faith, evolution, etc. The deal is, when you get someone who wants to talk and you start answering their questions with "Truth" from God's word, it will always land in fertile ground and accomplish the purposes God set out for it to accomplish (Isaiah 55).

When my father died at the age of 88, my precious pastor performed my dad's service, and he was able to share with us all his belief that after all of my dad's questions and doubts, he himself had no doubt that my father was saved. I believe that too - I saw a change in my daddy before he died. He knew he was dying and he so wanted to be saved and be counted among the living.

Laura, I have prayed for your Great Uncle and asked God to put people in his life to walk beside him and to speak Truth into his life. Truth being scripture. Pray truth over his life and speak truth to him about his life.

If you ever have questions on how to do that, I will be happy to help you along with it. I have watched God work miracles when truth has been spoken over people's lives.

So when we had my father's funeral, we had a beautiful and touching military service, and I buried the one man in my life who taught me about the sacrifices of a soldier from the soldier's point of view.

Dick Eastman, Christian author of the book, "Love on it's Knees" says that he believes that not one person ever came to Jesus Christ that God didn't send someone to intercede on that person's behalf. We are interceding for your great uncle, Sister! Be encouraged and watch for God in this man's life. And when he BELIEVES, please write us all back so we can praise God with the angels in heaven!

Laura said...

Dear Anonymous,
Thank you for your sweet words. I too have been praying for my Uncle as he has begun to seek the Truth. Because he lives in the L.A. area and I live in Phoenix, I am not able to be as involved in helping answer his questions as they arise. Please pray for those in close proximity to him (his daughter is a believer) that they will recognize and respond to him as loving ambassadors of Christ.

Anonymous said...

Dear Laura:

Do you think I could have his name and address so I could write to him and thank him myself for his service to our country? He might find it interesting that I found out about him through the internet. My dad was always fascinated with computer technology.


D.L. White said...

Thanks Jes, for your moving post, and for raising your kids to appreciate the sacrifices our military people go through to ensure our freedom.

I can only imagine the head-trip soldiers go through, after they've seen the atrocities of war. It's no surprise that they wonder if there is a God. Laura - I'll be praying for your great uncle!

Jeanna said...

Jes- Thanks so much for sharing this story. My Grandfather served in Korea. I am sending him a link to this post. What a life-changing experience for your family!