Marines.Together We Served

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Gold Star Memorial

     Eight years ago the Blue Star Mothers of California hosted the first Gold Star event at the Marines’ Memorial Association in San Francisco. Every year since, these same Blue Star Moms invite the Gold Star Parents to come at the end of February for two days of sharing and encouragement.

     I wrote about this event two years ago, but as a reminder, Blue Star Moms (Parents) have a son or daughter currently serving in the military. Gold Star Parents, on the other hand, have a loved one who has died while serving in the military.

     Isaura and I just returned from this year’s event which was our sixth time. We’ve missed twice over the years due to health issues, but otherwise we have this written into our calendar as a “must attend.” Our role is to serve as volunteer counselors.

     The California Gold Star Parents that come are only a portion of the number of fallen heroes. To date, California has lost 725 service members. For many parents it is simply too difficult to attend our annual get-together for a variety of reasons: the loss of their loved one is still too raw; they don’t trust their emotions in a group setting; they are still in denial; or some other reason probably known only to them.

     The activities during the brief 36-hours we are together includes a time for the Gold Star families to set up paraphernalia of their fallen hero displayed on one of the many tribute tables, to an evening’s reception and dinner, to a Memorial Service, to connecting and sharing sessions, to the finishing Tribute Dinner with a guest speaker.

     This year I was asked to provide the invocation and benediction for the Memorial Service which is held on Friday morning. What made this year’s ceremony so unique was the fact that for the first time we had an elected official attend. Senator Dianne Feinstein sat next to my wife.

     The annual Memorial Service is the most moving portion of the entire gathering. Nearly one hundred clear glass votive-style candles are lit one at a time as each service members’ name, rank and military branch is read aloud. When the name is read, family members stand while the rest of us say in unison, “A grateful nation acknowledges your sacrifice and prays for your peace.” Then a slide presentation of pictures of these warriors is shown with accompanying music.

     My prayer, the Invocation, which followed the posting of the colors and the national anthem, seemed to strike a chord with folks. Here it is in its entirety.

     Heavenly Father,

     Memorials are those sacred moments when we remember special people in our lives, or certain events that significantly mark our lives forever. This morning, we here are gathered to pay tribute to those brave men and women who have given the last full measure of devotion.

     Sometimes, Lord, it can feel as though no one can understand the depth of the loss experienced by these parents, brothers, sisters, and loved ones. But then again I’m reminded of the many times when you instructed your people to raise a monument in remembrance of a specific battle, or in the memory of a certain person. Then there was the memorial dinner that you had, Lord, when you broke the bread and drank the cup and instructed the disciples with these words: “Do this in remembrance of me.”

     Because of those who are named here this morning, we, too, will honor them by remembering them in their sacrifice for all of us. We do this in remembrance of them. Their selflessness makes our freedom breathe life and liberty into a world that has known little of either down through the ages.

     What we do here this morning, Father, may only be important to a few people in the broad spectrum of life. For our gathering goes virtually unnoticed. Life goes on all around us. And I suppose that’s as it should be.

     However, these Gold Star Families have had their lives disrupted and their hearts wounded in such a way that life may never take on a sense of normality ever again. Whether from World War Two seventy years ago, or Afghanistan only weeks ago, we remember their sacrifice.

     We now, at this hour Lord, honor our fallen warriors. When we honor them, we honor you, for it is you who declared, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.”

     And Lord, there is a balm, a healing ointment spoken of in the Scriptures. I would ask you to apply that balm to each one here who is weary from grief, sorrow and loss, because your Word makes this promise: “The Lord heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.”

     Thank you for the assurance of your presence in this hour of remembrance.

     In your holy Name!

     Amen

     At the conclusion of the ceremony, following the Benediction and the closing remarks by MajGen James M. “Mike” Myatt, President and CEO of the Marines’ Memorial Association, Senator Feinstein, still sitting in her seat, was so moved by the whole service that she turned to Isaura and simply said, “Wow!”

     Wow, indeed. Please remember to pray for the families of our fallen.








                                                      

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Dr. Ben Carson, M.D.

             Splash!

That’s exactly what happened when Dr. Ben Carson recently spoke before the National Prayer Breakfast on February 7th (not to be confused with the National Day of Prayer, which is held on the first Thursday of May). He spoke for a little over twenty-seven minutes covering a range of topics, but mostly the stir he created was over his comments about the government health care plan, or what has been euphemistically referred to as “Obamacare.”

What made the good doctor’s remarks so scintillating was that President Obama was seated two chairs from the podium. And he was not pleased! The next day the talking heads in the media were all in a lather that Dr. Carson would dare to speak in a critical tone about the president’s health care plan with the president right there. Harrumph! When Dr. Carson was asked about this by Sean Hannity of FOX News, he replied, “Some people say, ‘You know, you can’t say something like that in front of the president.’ Well, when did this become a monarchy? You know, we are the people. The president works for us and, you know, we need to remember that. This is a country that is for, of, and by the people, not for, of, and by the government, and that is the big battle that we are in right now.”

I must tell you that in a day and age when a person speaks their mind, and it falls into disfavor with certain people or groups within society, I find it wonderfully refreshing to have someone like Dr. Carson be unapologetic for his comments. He is not concerned with being PC (politically correct) and he said so during his speech. But a more gentlemanly man you could not ask for. He was respectful throughout his time at the podium and received a standing ovation at the conclusion. However, it was apparent from his body language that President Obama was not enamored with the doctor’s ideas. In an interview with Neil Cavuto, Carson defended himself by saying “Somebody has to be courageous enough to stand up to the bullies.”

I have known of Dr. Carson’s work in medicine for quite a number of years. A movie of his life was made in 2007 entitled, “Gifted Hands.” Carson’s is the classic American success story. He was born in a Detroit ghetto to a mother who was one of 24 children, married at 13 and had two sons from a man who was a polygamist. She eventually divorced him, raising her sons to be educated. Despite having only a third grade education, she made her boys turn off the TV and read two books a week and then submit a book report to her on each book. She would mark up the papers, even though she could not read – a fact her boys did not know until they were adults! She told them to read books and get an education and someday they would be on TV. During Hannity’s interview with the doctor on FOX, Carson was sharing this part of his story, at which point he paused and looked into the TV camera, gave a short wave, smiled and said, “Hi.”

Dr. Ben Carson is a world renowned neurosurgeon. “In 1987, Carson made medical history by being the first surgeon to successfully separate conjoined twins (the Binder twins) who had been joined at the back of the head (craniopagus twins). The 70-member surgical team, led by Carson, worked for 22 hours. At the end, the twins were successfully separated.” He is Professor of Neurosurgery, Plastic Surgery, Oncology, and Pediatric Neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions. His list of accomplishments and awards is staggering!

Last year Dr. Carson came out with his fifth book, “America the Beautiful: Rediscovering What Made This Nation Great.” It is an excellent read. I bought it right after it was published and read it with my wife. This is a man who knows history, and particularly the history of this country and the values and beliefs that made her so great a nation.

During the speech, he addressed political correctness: "The PC [Politically Correct] Police are out in force at all times ... We have to get over this sensitivity ... PC is dangerous, because you see, this country, one of the founding principles was freedom of thought and freedom of expression. And it [PC] muffles people. It puts a muzzle on them." On education, he compared our abysmal graduation rates with 200 years ago: "In 1831, Alexis de Tocqueville came to our country... anybody finishing the second grade was completely literate." About healthcare: "Here’s my solution. When a person is born, give him a birth certificate, an electronic medical record and a health savings account [HSA], to which money can be contributed, pre-tax from the time you are born, to the time you die. When you die, you can pass it on to your family members". He also touched on U.S. national debt: "Our deficit is a big problem, think about it. And our national debt is 16 and one-half trillion dollars."

Since Carson gave his speech at the Breakfast, it has gone viral on the Internet. He has been interviewed on various TV and radio programs as well. Because he espouses the beliefs, morals and principles that made America great, Sean Hannity asked him if he would consider running for president in 2016. His answer? “If the Lord grabbed me by the collar and made me do it, I would.”

           Hmmmm.

 

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Valentine's Day 1976

              Legends abound when it comes to the historical record of the celebration of Valentine’s Day. Interestingly, Valentine’s Day, or what is often referred to as the Feast of Saint Valentine, is the 2nd most popular holiday in the world, with New Year’s being the world-wide favorite of all holidays.

So how did this holiday come into being? “St. Valentine's Day began as a liturgical celebration of one or more early Christian saints named Valentinus. The most popular martyrology associated with Saint Valentine was that he was imprisoned for performing weddings for soldiers who were forbidden to marry and for ministering to Christians, who were persecuted under the Roman Empire; during his imprisonment, he is said to have healed the daughter of his jailer, Asterius. Legend states that before his execution he wrote ‘from your Valentine’ as a farewell to her.

Ah, how romantic! Now, whether this legend is true, or merely someone’s fanciful ideas that have been passed down over time, we’ll probably never know.

Valentine’s Day holds a special place in my heart because it was February 14th in 1976 when I took Isaura out for dinner to Grandma’s Attic in San Jose. I had been to the restaurant earlier in the day to drop off the engagement ring and some other gifts I would give to her over dinner later that evening.

Isaura and I had first met on the campus of San Jose State University ten months earlier, in April of 1975. One evening in July I was visiting her at her aunt and uncle’s home in Santa Clara. She lived with them while attending school. She was standing there ironing some clothing while I was seated on the floor. This was dangerous for me because at that time I kept a ridiculous schedule. I was carrying a full load of credits (18) at school; I was on the university radio station (KSJS) doing a live broadcast twelve hours a week as a DJ; I managed the apartment complex where I lived; I was working for the Alpha Beta store in Los Gatos on the early morning stock crew; I was in the active Marine Corps Reserve as a Staff Sergeant with VMA 133 at NAS Alameda; and I helped with the youth group at church on Wednesday nights, and taught the Junior High Sunday school class.

So you can appreciate my peril. Sitting and relaxing sent a message to my brain that this might be a good time to rest a bit. But on this particular evening I was on a mission! I looked up at Isaura in all of her loveliness and said, “How’d you like to spend the rest of your life with me?” She smiled and readily agreed. We had already had several conversations about marriage, so this was more a formality than anything else. Now remember – I was still seated on the floor. I must have leaned my head back on a chair right after because ten minutes after springing the question, I was comfortably asleep. Not my best moment!

I began plotting how long it would take me to get her an engagement ring. On my limited income and paying for my schooling, I had little left at the end of any given month. As I calculated my saving plan, I figured I would be able to buy the ring I wanted in cash by January of 1976. We had begun pre-marriage counseling with our pastor in early December, with a wedding date set for June 5, 1976.

Knowing that Isaura loves to sew, I found a great deal on a new sewing machine which I bought on credit. I was excited to give it to her for Christmas. I, however, had made a serious miscalculation. She was expecting the engagement ring for Christmas – not a sewing machine. Déjà vu: not my best moment again.

So in January, with cash in hand, I arrived at the jewelry store and made my long-awaited purchase of the coveted ring.

Not wanting to mess up a third time I was going to make this Valentine’s Day evening special. As we sat across from one another, on cue the waitress would bring in one of the several gifts throughout the dinner with the climax being the engagement ring. The whole evening went off without a hitch!

So here we are thirty-seven years later and I’m remembering our first Valentine’s Day together as if it had just taken place.

I have been blessed by the Lord to share this excursion of life with Isaura in all of its ups and downs, joys and sorrows, and the many uncertainties and challenges we have faced. It has been a wonderful journey together!

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Dressed to the Nines

             The expression, “dressed to the nines,” means to be all dressed up for a special occasion in your finest clothes. Another term is to be all gussied up.

A few weeks ago Isaura and I were in Arizona where I was officiating a wedding for a Marine friend. The ceremony was held at a popular resort, using as a backdrop a mountain range that encircles a portion of the Phoenix area.

Later during the reception I had one of those “Bible Moments.” What I mean by Bible Moments is those moments in life where you remember a similar story or teaching that is found in the Bible. That’s what I had at this reception.

The reception had been rolling on for a while with folks dancing and visiting and generally having a good time, when I noticed two guys walk into the banquet room who were, from their appearance, looking for some action. They were all smiles, but they stopped a few feet inside to assess the party, and whether this was something they could or should join. I watched as they were figuring out just what sort of gathering this was. They quickly determined that this was not a party they were likely to be invited to join, so, disappointedly, they turned and exited the building.

Our party/reception was for a wedding, so the people in attendance were dressed accordingly – tuxedoes, gowns, and the like. There was one unique aspect to this wedding and that was the theme of the wedding – Western. This may have been what initially puzzled our would-be party-crashers. The bridesmaids wore formal, knee high dresses – and cowboy boots! The bride, beautiful in her white full-length gown wore – you guessed it – cowboy boots! The groomsmen in their tuxedoes wore cowboy boots. The groom and I, having previously served together, were in full military dress, and no, we did not wear cowboy boots!

Now here was my Bible Moment: In the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 22, there is a parable told by Jesus of a man who arrives at a wedding banquet held by a king in honor of his son’s wedding. Yet the man was not clothed properly, signifying he had not received the memo, or had simply chosen not to wear the required wedding garments provided by the king. His clothing was totally inappropriate for the occasion, and was an insult to the king. For this breech of etiquette the improperly clothed miscreant was summarily dispatched from the wedding banquet. In short: the man did not belong.

In the time of Jesus, kings would spare no expense when it came to the wedding of a son, because the son was the heir to the throne of the kingdom. Special garments would be prepared at the king’s command for the invited guests. This was traditionally done so as to make matters simpler for the invited guests to arrive and then change into the proper wedding clothes. It eliminated having to travel with fine clothing and all the necessary accoutrements.  

Here’s a quick picture of what this parable is saying. The king is God the Father. The son to be married is Jesus. The invited guests are the Jews, and the others invited later are the Gentiles. The proper wedding clothing is the righteousness of Jesus Christ. This refers to anyone who has received Jesus as their Lord and Savior. When a person has done this they are then clothed in the righteousness of Christ. Those are the only wedding garments suitable for heaven.

The wedding banquet is the marriage of Jesus, the groom, to his bride, the church. So then if you have not accepted Jesus as the sacrifice for your sins then you are not prepared for heaven. You are not clothed properly in the garments offered by the king – in this case, God the Father. When this parable is fully understood there can be only one conclusion: Jesus is the only means by which a person can make it to heaven.

Back to our two fellows in search of a party to crash. They had the good sense to see this was a private affair. Their clothing was hardly appropriate for our gathering, however, they also knew they had not been invited, and would most likely have been asked to leave if they had been foolish enough to try and join our fun. A number of the groomsmen and others who were in attendance were Marines, most of whom had many years of service. The hapless pair would have been bodily removed if necessary.

My question to you then is to ask you if you have asked Jesus into your heart to be your Lord and Savior. That is the only way to heaven. Just to make sure we understand this Jesus declared, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father but through me.”

So, are you properly dressed for the Son’s wedding? If not, ask him into your heart right now.

Psalm for the Day