This year a first happened. While at Fort Lawton in Seattle we were approached by a woman (she might have been approaching 60). She needed to share and feel companionship, even if it was with strangers, for a few moments. The quietness of a cemetery can do that. It can connect total strangers. She was remembering her solider, a man she never met but adopted. Through her adoption she learned about him, talked with those who knew him and loved him. She kept his memory alive.
Perhaps she felt some sort of kinship and safety with approaching and talking with a family all adorned with "Warning: Unsocialized Homeschooler" t-shirts. She chatted for a while about a pilgrimage she had made to Vietnam recently, and the sight and sounds of a nation still living with the affects of the war today, more than a generation later. Then the conversation switched to her remembering a man she didn't even know. He was from her hometown; a small town in Alabama. She shared how he died the year she was on her highschool year book staff. She told us that he was the only person in her small town that died in the war, and how his death touched her; A young man she didn't know really, but her heart mourned and gave thanks for his sacrifice nonetheless.
We chatted for a while, listening to the birds, wondering when the rain would come... speaking in quiet tones. Hearts full of our own remembrances.
Bear shared that the grave we were chatting in front of was her grandfather. Bear talks as if she knew him; sadly she never met him. Neither have I, he died when Hubs was a teenager. Hubs shared a little about his father's time in Vietnam; how he made audio tapes for his mother and him. It made me wonder about my own father's time there. So many went and gave their all. It was good to hear Hubs talk of his father and remember what a good man he was.
The mystery lady eventually said she wanted to share a story of "her soldier" with us (I have elaborated a bit...).
I am calling this story a Jar Full of Faith.
The soldier grew up in Alabama. He grew up in a small town surrounded by woods, deer, squirrels, and the freedom to roam. It was an idyllic boyhood for an all American boy. When he turned 18 he enlisted, ready to fight for his country, Lady Liberty, and apple pie. Little did he realize that Lady Liberty would send him thousands of miles away from his beloved Alabama, in fact she would send him all the way to Vietnam. Before he got the order for 'Nam, he didn't even know where it was on a map. The jungles of Vietnam were a far cry from the woods of Alabama. Oh how he missed his beloved woods, creek bed, and even the coons held a dear place in his heart.
His mother loved him. He was her son, her baby boy. He was so far away. What was a mother to do. Was he eating right? Was he saying his prayers at night? His letters were full of longing for home, and her eyes got misty just thinking about her baby boy sitting in some dank hole writing in the waning twilight... What could she do, so far away?
He loved venison, more than any other food from home it was the sweet meat of his woods he missed most. His mother knew this, as only a mother's heart can know. There was only one thing she could do. Out of the cupboard came the jar. Into the jar was loving prepared the best cut of venison. Her special gravy filled the gaps. Home town newsprint cushioned and caressed the glass. Her friends said she was crazy, but a Mother's heart knows. A Mother's heart has faith.
God's will and a mother's heartfelt prayer was all she said was needed when her friends questioned her resolve. Her neighbor asked her if she knew where Vietnam was... She replied that she didn't know for sure, her "Rand McNally world atlas was old and missing some pages," but she figured it was further than Hawaii. The neighbor said "it surely was, and the jar, even as cushioned as it was, couldn't possibly make it." He called her a fool, and she smiled. "God loves the fools too," she said. Her heart never doubted. Her heart never wavered. A mother's heart doesn't. A Mother's heart loves faith, it lives in faith.
To the post office she went, her package lovingly prepared, lovingly wrapped, for her baby son so far away.
In Vietnam her son, with trembling hands unwrapped his mother's gift, gently folding the newsprint to read later. It would be passed from soldier to soldier before falling apart, a treasured gift from home. What lay, caressed in the paper's folds was a glass jar of venison with Mom's venison gravy. This jar, this miracle and a testament to faith, was unsplintered, untarnished, whole, and complete; a gift ready to be shared and enjoyed. A mother's jar of love traveling thousands of miles and across the ocean to show a band of soldiers the power of faith and love. That night the men feasted on venison and gave thanks, remembering one mother's faith.
The solider died on the battlefield in central Vietnam... But this story is about faith, and how faith can overcome the world.
Thank you to the men and women who have served and are serving. Thank you to their families who keep the faith and send the jars. May God bless you.