When I was a child, to me Memorial Day meant cutting lilacs from my grandma's yard to put on the graves of the husbands she had buried, and admiring the decorations that my other grandma had lovingly made by hand to adorn the graves of the sons that she had buried. Mostly, actually, it meant the first trip of the summer to Dairy Queen (in Montana when I was little, Dairy Queen was still closed in the winter).
I grew up as part of a generation that is decades removed from any real, significant sacrifice or hardship. My grandparents came of age and raised their families in the midst of the Great Depression and WWII. My generation (and, for the most part, the generation that preceded us) has grown up in a time and place of unprecedented prosperity and security. I think we often under-value just how blessed we are, and what it has taken to secure those blessings--what it still takes.
As I listened to my grandma's stories about having her first baby at home, in the middle of a snowstorm (of course), in a house that was actually a converted corn crib, I came to better understand what she had given me. As I listened to her laugh as she told a story about running back into her burning house to get ration stamps while my grandpa was away from home in the Pacific theater and she was doing her best to keep a large family on an even keel, I finally started to appreciate the kind of woman that she was and the sacrifices of the generations on whose shoulders I stood. When my brother was in Iraq, I saw my sister-in-law go through ups and downs where she'd be OK with it, and then suddenly furious and depressed at the thought of him never coming home. The day he was supposed to be helicoptered out of Iraq to Kuwait to start home to the US, the first thing I heard on the news that morning was "Black Hawk down"--out of the same city from which he had been departing . A little lump of dread sat in my throat all day as I pictured my sister-in-law back in MT with her two little babies, waiting anxiously for the phone to ring. I finally started to get it. I finally started to understand what an entire generation of women went through, trying to raise babies on their own and fight back the fear, or deal with the reality that their companion would never come home. I finally started to understand the sacrifice that all those men have made--either for a short time, or ultimately sacrificing themselves and a future they'd never see.
Its easy to oppose war, with all its ugliness, brutality and the corruption that violence so often breeds. And I think that unnecessary war is one of the greatest evils. But I think much of my generation finds it all too easy to ignore or denigrate necessary military action, and the sacrifices of soldiers who voluntarily sign up to be at the battle front, because we have faced so very little tangible threat to our freedom and our way of life. I abhor violence and I hope that I never am asked to sacrifice my sons to war, but I do know with absolute certainty that the greatest gift that God gives us is life, and second only to that is the gift to choose for ourselves what we will do with that life (and without the second gift, the first is virtually meaningless). And there will always, always be tyrants and bullies who seek to deprive their fellow human beings of both. Freedom is worth sacrificing for. And as long as human nature remains unchanged, it always will have to be defended from those who desire power more than anything else.
There seems to often be a mindset that WWII was a noble undertaking, but it was the last necessary undertaking of its kind. Somehow, evil died with Hitler, and every other thug since then can simply be reasoned with if we explain ourselves clearly enough. But there will always be another Hitler--the only question is how much damage we allow him to do, how much power we allow him to gain, before we do something about it.
"We wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places." (Eph 6:12). The plan of God was to allow us to choose for ourselves who and what we would be. He made it clear what He would like us to choose, but the choice has always ours. The plan of the adversary was to make us do as he chose, as he saw fit, regardless of what we may want, robbing us of any capacity to progress, to improve ourselves, to grow. Those conflicting plans are still at war in this world--the adversary still seeks to corrupt men, to get them to act as he would: to control and oppress the souls of men. He still seeks dominion over that which is not his, and there will always be corruptible, selfish souls who do his bidding, ignorantly or intentionally. I love my country and harbor a deep and fervent patriotism, but that exists only so long as my country is worth loving and defending, because what I truly cherish is freedom. Freedom to do with our lives what we choose is a fundamental human (and yet, when used correctly, very Divine) desire, and that is worth standing up for. It is worth sacrificing for. It is not only America's interests that these brave men serve--as of yet, America is still a tool for securing, defending and preserving freedom. And that is what we must do. As a blessed and prospered people, it is our moral obligation.
But the war does not begin and end solely on the battle field, with boots on the ground. In that same epistle, Paul instructs the Ephesians to "Put on the whole armor of God. . .Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness; And your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace; above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench the fiery darts of the wicked. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. . ."
Its armor, its all defensive. Its significant, I think, that the only weapon, the only thing we use not to protect ourselves, but to deal blows to the adversary, is the word of God, by the spirit. We must sometimes physically stop tyrants so that people have a chance to hear the word of God, but to truly push back the work of the adversary we must not simply defend people physically, but teach them the word of God, with the help of the Spirit. Because when people are touched by the Spirit and truly begin to understand who they are, where they came from and the opportunities that are before them, they will come to cherish the gift of their freedom and they will stand up to those who do the work of the adversary, because they will come to understand that nothing that is lost is as valuable as what they gain.
So on Memorial Day, I remember and honor my brother for the four years he served in the Army and the 8 or 9 months he spent in Iraq; my father, for his service in the navy; my grandfathers, who all proudly served their country during WWII; for many other friends and loved ones who've served under a flag that to me represents so many values essential to the Plan of Salvation. But I also remember with gratitude the two year my husband spent in western Washington, preaching the Gospel; the two years my cousin spent wearing out shoes and knocking on doors in Preston England; I think with fond gratitude of elders I do not know who taught my husband's paternal grandparents, and his mother, so that he could be born to a Gospel-anchored family, and so many other friends, family members, ancestors who took time away from their families, jobs, farms and--often at great personal sacrifice--took the time to preach the word of God with the Spirit. To me, they are two parts of a great whole.
My hope is that we do not let those who seek power slowly chip away at our freedoms and do nothing. I hope that the sacrifices that these men and women have made in the name of human freedom are not casually tossed aside by generations who do not know the true cost of what they lose.