What does it look like to be practice gratitude in the midst of the heat of the battle? Literally. Whether your battle is under your roof, or in your relationships, or with your health, or with some painfully challenging circumstances — you need to hear from this man, Adam. Adam is an Army Chaplain and works with REBOOT Recovery. REBOOT Recovery exists to help veterans, first responders and their families heal from the moral and spiritual wounds associated with a service-related trauma — and Adam reached out to me with these powerful words about one man facing battles — who learned the life-changing power of gratitude after reading One Thousand Gifts. It’s a grace to welcome Adam to the farm’s front porch today…
The heat was different than before. As a military chaplain in Iraq, I had experienced higher overall temperatures, but this was different.
It may have been the combination of the desert dust, stress, body armor, and nervous expectation.
Or maybe it was the pure boredom wrapped in the tension of what may come. I don’t know.
All I know is I was concealed with 40 guys in a far flung military outpost few had ever heard of, an outpost whose existence wasn’t recognized until a year later.
There are places in life where it takes time to get to where we are going. To get to my troops was no different.
This trip took four plane rides, almost a dozen hours in a convoy of SUV’s, and over a week to get there.
I only stayed for about twenty-four hours.
But those twenty-four hours impacted the rest of my life due to a deep, yet light conversation – a conversation that placed a word forever on my heart and into my skin: “eucharisteo.”
At about midnight, resting against a cement barrier, I was exhausted. Two of my favorite Soldiers walked up, sat down with me, and we caught up on life.
We shared what was going on at home. The younger of the two had just found a facebook message from his fiancé back home. She broke off the engagement. Too much time away. Too much distance. She decided to move on.
We hurt with him. He saw her message earlier that day, and it was already 3 weeks old. We sat with him in the dirt and mourned his loss.
But, there was something deeper going on within him – he knew where he was at and the impact it would have on history. It was worth it. The cost of this relationship was worth it to him. It allowed him to drop a pebble into the pond of history and his ripple could be felt.
We sat there, in that moon dust, and all felt something – it may have the realization of a holy moment or an awkward silence – we were restless.
I brought up a book I was reading. I brought up “eucharisteo.” I had heard of the word “eucharist,” but never thought much of it its root word or Greek origin. Whenever I thought “eucharist,” I thought of the Catholic Church.
Being a Non-Denominational Chaplain I didn’t realize what it meant beyond the bread and the cup of communion. But Ann Voskamp, the author of One Thousand Gifts, changed all that for me.
She talks about the word meaning “to be grateful, feel thankful,” and “give thanks.”
While I was in the Middle East, the theme of continual gratitude was constantly in front of me.
I asked those Soldiers what they were thankful for.
“Oh man, that ice today was great! It was the first time in a month we’ve had something cold!” Gratitude.
Then the other piped up. “I got to take a shower today – first one in a week and a half.” Thankfulness.
Earlier, we had celebrated half of this duo’s birthday. When I had arrived at the outpost, I gave him a package. It was a gift from his family back home.
He shared it with his Army family. This gift had a rooted, yet simple connection, to home. At any other point in life our drink that was shared would’ve tasted below average.
Here, in this place, not far from Nineveh – THE Nineveh – we gulped down the lukewarmness. As we all enjoyed it, he smiled with a look of fully present gratitude on his face. Fully present gratitude in the midst of a war.
The deep black of the Iraqi sky and the dusty mountain range that loomed in the distance will forever be imprinted in my memory along with the depth of gratitude these men displayed that night.
These guys taught me a lesson I didn’t know I needed to learn.
They taught me the simplicity of gratitude in all circumstances.
A small conversation transformed into a holy moment. The genuine thanksgiving for a cool drink and the heartfelt gratitude for a 3 minute shower made me realize how much I overlook God’s good gifts to me – no matter how simple or elaborate they are.
I closed my eyes and silently thanked God for placing me in this desert, in this physical place with such deep and rich history, to share in “eucharisteo” with them.
We sat for about an hour more, talking and listening. Listening to each other, to the silence of the mountains, and to the holy moment Holy Spirit led us into.
These were no longer boys, but men with a perspective of deep gratitude. Men who could never go back to being the same as when they had left home months before.
Men hardened by war, but who understood deeply one of the greatest lessons to learn: in all situations remain thankful. It’s real. And it’s powerful.
Later that year, we landed back in the United States and were corralled into a large room. We were instructed to turn around and walk down a hallway where there were coffee, donuts, and a taste of home waiting for us.
I turned around to face a set of double doors and walked through. Instantly I was greeted by Vietnam vets, brothers from another war. These same men were not welcomed home, yet here they were for us.
They paid a huge cost for our country and were rebuked for it, spit on, chastised, and poisoned by Agent Orange. They arrived deep in the middle of the night, well before sunrise – to welcome us home. To give us what was never given to them.
I heard the words, “You did it! You made it back!” “Well done!” “We are here for you!” “Welcome home, brother!”
They hugged us, shook our hands, and their wives kissed us on our cheeks.
They looked at us with eyes of compassion, but also eyes that understood where we’d been and what we had experienced. They smiled with sincerity in a way you’d have to see to understand.
I thought, “I bet this is what walking into Heaven will be like.”
I was choked up and tears of joy and sadness began to trickle down my face.
Joy for being home and experiencing this. Sadness because my dad is a Vietnam vet.
His brothers – our brothers – gave me what he never received: a welcome home. Something new – something very deep – to be thankful for.
Even as I write this, my heart is stirred with deep gratitude. I am thankful for the men and women who will stand and protect us, and our country – no matter the personal cost to them.
They go on behalf of a nation, not a government. They go on behalf of us all, the citizens, not the politicians.
Like my friends, many service men and women lose fiancés and spouses in breakups and divorces. Many have missed their children’s birthdays and major holiday traditions with their families – for years.
Many have lost their limbs or their lives. Even worse, many more have taken their own lives because of the rejection, sadness, and depression that overwhelmed them as they return to America.
It seems that you lose a part of your heart on every deployment and it’s hard to put it back together.
The next time you encounter one of my brothers or sisters in the military, and feel a nudge to express your gratitude towards them, I want to challenge you to say more than just, “Thank you for your service!”
Hearing your “why” reminds a veteran that it is all worth it.
Take a moment now, to ask yourself questions like — Why are you thankful to live in a free country? What freedoms do you usually overlook or take for granted?
Then, if you say thank you, tell them why you’re specifically thankful to live in this free country, that they’ve sacrificed so much in their own life for.
It means more than you know.
My life is forever changed in a variety of ways due to military service, but the most important thing I learned from my time as an Army Chaplain is how to live in a deeper state of being grateful, feeling thankful, and giving thanks.
In a state of “eucharisteo.”
Gratitude, in spite of all circumstance turns our broken and beat up hearts back to the safe place of faith in the Giver.
It’s not easy, but it’s worth it.
Adam is based on the shores of Lake Superior in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. He is focused on helping others heal from the wounds of trauma, learning to enjoy life, and an amateur woodworker. Adam continues to serve as a Michigan Army National Guard Chaplain and works for REBOOT Recovery. REBOOT’s (@rebootrecovery) mission is to help others heal from service related trauma and beyond. All opinions are completely the authors and are not the opinion of the U.S. Army, Department of Defense, or state or federal governments.
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