It was a frigid winter morning in France 1944. World War II carried a vast multitude of servicemen and servicewomen away from feast adorned tables and the warmth of family conversations. There in the trenches a young platoon sergeant received a letter from his mother.
As the soldier opened his letter he was carried away in thought as she asked him an astonishing question, “Do you recall,” she asked, “where you were on Thanksgiving Day?”
Without hesitation he envisioned himself watching the sunrise on a brisk morning much like this one. It was his duty to check a certain crossroads suspected to be crawling with enemy forces. Protocol-and commonsense really-indicated that he should have his men use the heavily wooded area to cover their position as they made their way toward the enemy stronghold.
The soldier paused; there he stood still as the mighty forest that surrounded him. A strong feeling swept over him and contradicted the expectation of what he as well as all of his men knew they “should” do. “March them up the middle of the road,” a thought presented. “Absurd!” the sergeant reasoned, but the thought came back so strongly that he could not ignore the warning.
“We’re taking the road,” he whispered to his men. There they walked, exposed as the noonday sun, yet nobody fired, their existence went unknown. They found the crossroad and witnessed a heavily guarded enemy stronghold. As they made their way back to tell the others, a solider noticed a string of signs on the backside of a row a trees, which could have been seen only by German forces which read, “minen.” The woods- the ones that should have provided safety and cover -were littered with mines.
“I awoke from a dead sleep with a sense that you were in grave danger,” the letter continued. “Seeking comfort I opened my Bible to which my eye was drawn to a particular phrase in Second Chronicles 20:17:
“Ye shall not need to fight in this battle: set yourselves, stand ye still, and see the salvation of the LORD with you.”
“I proceeded to kneel and ask God to motion you to pause and be still- wherever you found yourself and to direct you in whichever task you were doing,” his mother revealed.
I heard this story a number of years ago and wrote it down in my journal. I have often revisited it in times when the world seems to be spinning more quickly than I can run. The stress and broken heartedness that occupies many as loved ones find themselves separated by war, duty, and assignments can often cause us to feel a sense of emptiness during the holiday seasons.
Instead of being grateful we find ourselves with lists of “why me’s?” and a scoreboard of “this isn’t fair.” If I could but offer one phrase of advice prayed for by an attentive mother nearly seven decades ago it would be to simply pause and “Be Still.”
In a world infiltrated by terror and fear our vision of good tidings and service offered to us can often be clouded. “We are praying for your family,” an acquaintance whispered to me as she passed me in the grocery store knowing my husband was afar. Soon after the cashier at the checkout line informed me that a woman-a mere stranger- had paid for my groceries.
I can’t count the occasions that friends have called, visited or sent messages at the most needed moments with no prompting from me. Yes, it’s easy to dwell on unfortunate moments often caused by our circumstances, but oh how powerful is a grateful heart that remembers the errands of angels in times of hardship.
This Thanksgiving season, whether you spend it with your partner, or a slew of adopted family, I pray that you pause to remember instances that caused your heart to swell, and deeds of good-natured service no matter how small offered to you by friends and strangers alike.
Most importantly I hope that we can let this foundation of grateful hearts carry us when those same beating vessels are broken, when our hands hang down, and our souls feel empty. I hope that we can let the attitude of gratitude govern our thoughts as well as our actions this Holiday season and beyond.
John F. Kennedy so wisely expressed, “As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.” It is this ideology I hope to adopt and follow. My thoughts and prayers reside with all of you and your loved ones scattered across the globe. I am forever grateful for your sacrifices.
Happy Thanksgiving from my heart to yours!