Free To Be Grateful

I was born three months after Pearl Harbor was bombed. I remember (barely) rationing of certain materials and food stuffs, gas, and metals. I can recall my mother’s friends talking about “the war effort” and “rolling bandages”.

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I grew up with a cousin (born in the same month as I) whose father, my father’s only brother, was wounded in action in New Guinea and was given a “purple heart”. At four years old I wasn’t sure why the real heart he had wasn’t good enough, but my family spoke about it like it was an honor to have the purple one. When he came home to claim his little daughter from my grandmother and grandfather who were caring for her, he brought a new wife who was the army nurse that had tended to his wounds in the army hospital. As it turned out, she was from Mississippi and had the only real southern accent in our family.

My uncle finished his education in literature and theater with a civil defense loan and taught in the Chicago area until he retired. He and his army nurse wife had four more children. Phoebe, the cousin who was like a sister, still keeps in touch, and Jeannie, one of the other four children, came to spend the day with me when we were singing at Willow Creek Church.

My father never served in the military, but became a wonderful pastor who with my artist/writer mother built strong congregations in Michigan. Both of them had a passion for people and instilled in my sister and me a love for God’s kingdom the world over.

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One of Bill’s earliest memories of his sixth Christmas Eve, when, at his family’s Christmas gathering, word came that his Aunt Lillie’s handsome son Glen had been killed in Germany only a few days after he had been deployed. This bright young man was engaged to a lovely girl and had hoped to go into the ministry of the Nazarene Church where he had been active in the youth group. 

From then on for years, there was certain sadness for Bill about Christmas Eve and the Gaither family celebration. Maybe that is why we tried to make new memories with our children on Christmas morning.

Like most families, ours has been affected by the loss or injury of one of our own who served in the defense of our country.  For Aunt Lillie the fracture to her soul caused by losing a son never fully healed, though she lived to be in her nineties. And my family was changed forever by “the war”. Many men and women who have experienced the horror of war carry deep wounds. Scar tissue of the spirit finally forms, and life goes on. But nothing is ever quite the same. There are emotional sacrifices that go on long after “Johnny comes marching home”.

The freedom that we treasure in America is unique in all the world. As we begin the summer season traveling, gathering, worshipping and celebrating with our families, let us take time to savor our freedoms. Let’s use these freedoms—rare in the world—to do good things.

We are free to help others,
     free to assemble,
          free to be generous,
               free to pray,
                    free to learn,
                         free to criticize and question.

Let us always be aware that freedom is not free. It has come at great cost, a price that should cause us to live aware and grateful. And may we never misuse this precious freedom or use it as a license to take away someone else’s freedom.

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