Proud to be an American?

I don’t often feel like words fail me. Words have always been an abundant resource for me, a manner of communicating my concerns and convictions.

A few years ago, one of my best friends from high school was visiting and we were out to dinner. She has had something of a difficult life, and has always struggled (I think) to find her identity. When she joined the National Guard, she gained a confidence and self-respect I’d never seen in her before. I can’t tell you how proud of her I was and am. I digress. She was visiting and we were eating dinner. An older woman approached our table and put a twenty-dollar-bill on the table. She told us that whenever she and her husband see a serviceman or woman out in a restaurant, they pay for her meal. They had been doing this for many years (I think she said forty years, but I don’t remember). The truth is, I don’t remember much of the woman’s words. What I remember–what I’ll never forget–is the look on my friend’s face. She looked humbled–not humiliated, but humbled–and honored.

I remember thinking about it all night. She didn’t enlist so that strangers would pay for her meals. Without exception, I have never met someone serving in the armed forces who acts like or says others need to show them special treatment. They do what they do for a reason–and it’s not for attention.

Why am I telling you this?

Yesterday morning, I was refilling my coffee in the break room, and I caught just a glimpse of something on the television. Lee Greenwood sang that old song that used to bring tears to our eyes and then a group of individuals placed their hands on their hearts and–following one young man–recited the Pledge of Allegiance. They were becoming naturalized citizens of the United States. One gentleman said it was like he had been “born again.”

Those who’ve been a part of the Christian community know how powerful those two words are. We don’t know the name of the emotion, but we know it sweeps over us every time we hear those words. To think–everything past is past, everything is new, we are born again. That’s an incredibly powerful feeling, and it struck me that a newly-oathed citizen of the United States would describe the experience in those words.

And then it embarrassed me. Just a little bit. It has become so easy to distance ourselves from the patriotism of our fathers and grandfathers. Many of us were born into freedom. We have always known the security of belonging to this great nation. We don’t remember the threats our ancestors faced. 9/11 is the only moment in recent history when we’ve questioned our security, our future. It brought us together in a surge of American pride–rightly so.

I thought about this all day yesterday. And somewhere in the midst of it all, I remembered the face of my dear friend, humbly accepting a free meal of gratitude from a complete stranger.

How blessed we are–still–to live in a nation of freedom.

How blessed we are–still–to be individuals and pursue our passions.

How blessed we are–still–to be governed by laws and not by kings.

How blessed we are–still–to be healthy and happy and productive.

How blessed we are–still–to freely worship in the manner in which we find our conviction.

How blessed we are–still–to be the United States, not the Wanting-to-Peacefully-Secede States.

How blessed we are–still–that men and women sacrifice their time, their energy, their relationships, their careers, their health, and their very life’s blood to defend our freedom.

How blessed we are–still–to be a nation that strives to promote freedom to the oppressed around the world.

All this, and more, I can still see in my mind in the face of my friend that night at the restaurant. I am so blessed. I am so proud. I am so thankful. Of all the places in the world I could have been born, I am so thankful I was born in these United States of America.

As I spent the day thinking about all of this and remembering my friend’s face, I thought about what a difference that woman made. I wondered if my friend remembered her (I bet she does). I wondered if anyone has ever paid for my sister to have a meal. I wondered if anyone else out there pays for our servicemen and women. I wondered if anyone would dare to join me in this conviction.

I can’t pay for every military person I encounter. And I may not be able to pay for them every time I see them. But it’s my new commitment–to myself, to my God–to show my gratitude for my freedom by paying for a meal for a soldier whenever I see them out. I realize that not everyone is in a place financially to do this, but if those of us who could made it a habit–just like that woman and her husband–think of how honored our military would feel. Think of how appreciated and loved they would feel.

What do you say, folks? Anyone else game?

And…for anyone interested…or for anyone who’s forgotten how emotional it is to be an American, here is part of the ceremony I saw yesterday.

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