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American Flags and Cookies for Our Troops

Originally published Wednesday, 24 July 2013.

It was five years ago today.

My high school sweetheart and I had broken up the day before. On the fourth of July. Though it's been half a decade (half a decade?!) I'm still talking about it, because the very fact that I'm a writer and a former English major makes the smog of irony surrounding that situation far too thick to ignore.

It's a day that's still impacting me years later. It's a day I began learning a lesson that I'm forever thankful I learned.

But, how could I have understood that I would one day be thankful that morning, when my eyes were so sore and puffy I could barely slit them open? How could I know that the sandpaper feeling in my throat would one day dissolve? And that he and I would one day both be joyful and happy.

Even joyful and happy with people better suited for us.

Wild, just wild.

I hadn't emerged from my Tiffany blue bedroom in my parent's house just yet. But they knew I was up. I could tell by the way the frame of the house seemed to sink inward under the weight of their nervousness.

Luckily, the day my cashiering shift at the local grocery store began early. My family, and the house, would soon be able to sit up straight. The pressure of saying or doing the right thing to and for me would be gone.

The day before, I had laid down my Isaac. And it was less dramatic than I anticipated. God didn't send an angel to intervene, to stop me from uttering phrases like "it's not you, it's me," and "I just feel like God is calling us apart"or anything like that. He didn't even send a replacement sacrifice like I thought He would have.

My mom shouted some sort of scripture at me–one of those verses about sorrows lasting through the night, but hope coming in the morning–as I burst through the front door in my royal blue polo and my grease-streaked khakis.

It was one of the hardest most pitiful days of my life. Bagging groceries and straightening up folded, frayed dollar bills in the register. Tip-toing very dangerously close to erupting in tears with every subtle move my hands or feet made. And feeling, for the first time in my life, the impulse, the need to start smoking.

(I didn't ever work up the courage to start doing it, though.)

That same nervousness my family must have felt for me that day as they saw me bounce out of my home, with my earth-shattered and my eyes blotchy, catches in my throat when I see a service man or woman in uniform.

The first man I ever knew who served in the military went to my church. He was in the youth group, and I always had a sort of awe-filled crush on him. This caused my father quite some concern. But, I just couldn't help it.

How noble was this man's sacrifice for all of us? What was it that made him want to step fearlessly into combat zones? How deep was this honorable pride that must have run through his veins?

He was gone shortly after the 9/11 attacks. And he was away from home for a long time. And when he came home sporadically, even when I was in college, I had no idea what to say to him anymore. I was scared by both his goodness but also by the trauma I knew he must have experienced and the horrendous things he must have seen.

How could I tell him I'm thankful? How could I encourage him, and tell him he was doing legacy work?

How could I even relate to someone like that? The only hard thing I had ever endured at the time was breaking up with a boyfriend.

I was intimidated by his sacrifice. And I didn't want to say anything naive, or stupid. So I chose to say nothing at all.

For five years, I've been dwelling on all of this.

And now, it seems that increasingly important people in my life are currently or have served in the military. A few months ago, my phone lit up from a Navy man with a text that read:

Just so you know, a batch of your cookies went to support the troops today.

And I cried. Because it seemed so simple. Dumb, really. I had the resources all along to show gratitude and appreciation.

Cookies, of all the things...I didn't even need words.

I shouldn't even be writing about laying my Isaac down, because the truth is that after five years, it looks far less like a sacrifice and more like it was just the right thing to do.

I don't know squat about sacrifices. And as a writer, I should only write what I know. I don't write posts about math or chess or raising children or even how to cook. So why would I ever have the audacity to be living under the guise that I know. anything. about. sacrifice?

But. Those cookies. That text message. My dear, sweet friends I love tremendously who serve so selflessly. Who lay their very lives–the Isaacs of their every day and souls. They are the ones who could write about what I don't know. They could write about being heartbroken, and separated from their loved ones. About being rattled and jarred. And like the earth was being stripped from their feet.

They could write about sacrifices.

Here's what I do know, and what I will write about, however. The knot in my heart that has kept my purpose and calling is becoming undone by wading into and learning to understand the men and women who serve us in this way. It's become loosened in such away that I am awake and alive to it for the first time.

All because of a day–five years ago today–that once left me rattled and jarred, gave me the chance to learn how to love others more. It's become an Isaac that I would gladly lay down again and again. 

Without a second thought.

Thankfully, there are people out there, men and women in uniform, who don't have to learn these lessons. They just do them without having to be taught.

It's about as bold as you can get. And I'd like to be able to write about it one day.