Wednesday evening, during my small-group gathering with a dozen of my brothers here at Wake Forest Presbyterian Church, we packed boxes for WFPC’s ongoing M-to-M initiative (mission to military).
We agreed on a list of contents, each man took responsibility for a different item, then we all dumped our loot in the middle of the table. Of course we packed twice as many boxes as planned, and that can be interpreted as either, A) Guys don’t know how to follow directions, or B) God’s spirit of generosity guided our purchases. Knowing this group of men, it was likely both!
We also did our regular Bible-study, and we talked about what Christmas has to do with HOPE in this violence torn world, and we prayed together. It was another good meeting.
My job was to purchase oodles of energy bars. But David – who (along with Bernie and Fred) got the ball rolling for packing M-to-M boxes – also asked me to write a letter to go along with the Christmas card that went in the boxes.
So here it is, my “open letter to U.S. armed service members.”
Dear U.S. service member: December 2015
First, we’re sorry we don’t know your name. But we do – in a sense – know who you are. You are someone who has chosen to put yourself in a dangerous, uncomfortable, 24/7, job that involves spending too much time away from your family and far away overseas (but not in the places the tourists like to go).
And so, knowing the extent of your personal sacrifice, we are grateful for you, for your service, and for the confidence it gives the rest of us to go about our lives with a sense of security and reassurance.
We get the impression – talking to friends who have been where you are, and watching reports on television news – that you put absolutely everything you have into your job. We know it doesn’t work to put on a uniform, and then put in a mediocre effort. So we’re grateful for the inspiration you give the rest of us, guys who are tempted sometimes to be lazy, to give token lip-service to our work and families, too often guilty of leaving this incredible gift of life partially unused, underutilized, under-appreciated, operating (and living) well below capacity.
So much of what U.S. service members do, for us, in difficult circumstances, brings an acute awareness of how precious this life is; especially at this time of the year, in the weeks leading up to Christmas. We all search for the perfect gift, but when we are smart enough to consider our freedom, our families, our opportunities, our very lives, then we have to understand that we already have that gift.
Here at our church – Wake Forest Presbyterian – we pour a lot of time, effort, and resources into telling the story. Not just the story of that first Christmas, but the story of how our lives are transformed every day because of Christmas, and the spectacular gift of life God has made available to each one of us.
So between the two stories – the story of Christmas, and the story of people like you, giving everything you have – we can’t help but be challenged to stop taking this life for granted, and to live with more deliberate gratitude.
There’s a phrase we use a lot in our men’s Bible study: “Live like you mean it – because God certainly meant something amazing when we were created.” It’s our prayer that we all live that way – both grateful and inspired, thankful for one-another, and motivated to make good use of this precious gift called life.
So thank you, from the bottom of our hearts; may God’s rich blessings give you peace; and – as creatively as you can, wherever you are – MERRY CHRISTMAS!
“By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, and to guide our feet into the way of peace.” – Luke 1:78-79
Christmas hope is most meaningful when we offer it to others. Or – as Ray observed – “Without the reality of hope, what would be the point of doing anything?” It’s a really good point.
– Peace, Hope, and Blessings – DEREK
Derek has published seven books in the past decade (you can find them at https://www.amazon.com/Derek-Maul/e/B001JS9WC4), and there's always something new in the works.
Before becoming a full-time writer, Derek taught public school in Florida for eighteen years, including cutting-edge work with autistic children. He holds bachelor's degrees in psychology and education from Stetson University and the University of West Florida.
Derek is active in teaching at his church: adult Sunday school, and a men's Bible study/spiritual formation group. He enjoys the outdoors, traveling, photography, reading, cooking, playing guitar, and golf.