A Woman's Perspective On The Times We Live In


December 18, 2014

The Spirit of Christmas

   
     Today is the twenty-second anniversary of the opening of the first Fisher House at Fort Sam Houston, San Antonio, TX.  As we have for the past three years, PLW and I journeyed the couple of hours to serve a Christmas luncheon to our servicemen and women, their family members, and the dedicated staff that helps care for and rehabilitate them.
     As part of a service organization called Angel Chefs, we periodically come into the Fisher House to provide several days of home-cooked meals to give a respite to family members, and to show our veterans that we support and honor their service.  It is a simple, yet heartfelt method to show our gratitude.
     (In case you are unfamiliar with the history of Fisher Houses, let me give you a brief history.  Zachary Fisher was a wealthy New York philanthropist who answered the call for temporary lodging facilities for our wounded veterans and their families while they are recuperating from their debilitating injuries.  In 1990, he and his wife, Elizabeth, began the non-profit Fisher House program, dedicating more than $20 million to the construction of comfort homes for families of hospitalized military personnel -- free of charge. These "home away from home" facilities vary in size, and can accommodate 16 to 42 family members; oftentimes for months on end.  There are currently 64 Fisher Houses located on 23 military installations and 24 VA medical centers, with more planned in the future... and all are built from private donations.  The U.S. government is responsible for the operation and maintenance of the homes.)
     This Christmas at Fisher House was no different, in many aspects.  I don't think I will ever become accustomed to the sight of 19 and 20-year-olds with missing limbs, due to the horrors of IED attacks in Iraq and Afghanistan.  I am continually amazed at the acceptance of their condition and the determination with which they work at reclaiming their lives.  But I also see the pain and the weariness that comes from knowing their life is changed forever.  Then there is the disguised emotions on the faces of wives and parents, whose own lives have been altered by the need to care for their loved ones.
     While our Christmas cheer provides a moment of respite from the countless days of rehabilitation, no home-cooked meal can ever repay these veterans and their families for what they have sacrificed on our behalf.  We have so little to give in return for their bravery and commitment to keep our nation safe.  The blessings we receive by being in the company of these heroes is so much greater than any comfort we bestow on them.
     But this year, there was an added poignancy to our Fisher House experience.  Through the years, we have grown to respect and love Inga Godfrey, the Director of Fisher Houses at Fort Sam, and the much-beloved "House Mother" to all the inhabitants.  With her thick German accent, Inga runs a tight ship; but her capacity to watch over her families and love them through the hard times knows no bounds.
     The meal preparations were being well-handled by the group of Angel Chefs, so Inga commissioned PLW and myself to accompany her and Mr. & Mrs. Claus to the vast Medical Center on Post.  We loaded up bags of wrapped toys and proceeded room to room, with a carefully prepared list of children whose day needed to be brightened just a little.

Our littlest heroes, and Santa's elves (Inga and PLW)
     Each of these children had at least one parent on active duty in our military.  Some were cancer patients; others were hematology patients; still more were sick from various infections and viruses.  It broke my heart to see these children suffering, and to think of the worry and anxiety their parents must be feeling.  I watched a staff of military doctors and nurses dedicated to treating them, and was so glad to see that they were being administered to with the best medical care possible.  And this is one use of my tax dollars that I do not begrudge.  We owe this to our military families and I pray that these benefits continue amidst all the efforts to cut the Defense budget.
     I was also glad to see that these children and their families were not just a number to the hospital staff, or to Inga.  She had coordinated with hospital administrators to find out the names and ages of the sickest of the children, and the gift they had requested from Santa.  Even PLW was coaxed into putting on an elf hat and carrying Santa's red bag of presents!  The wonder and the smiles on those little faces made us all forget the state of the world for just a moment; while the smallest of them, an eight-month-old little boy hooked up to tubes nearly reduced me to tears.  We locked eyes through his open door and I was once more aware how fragile this life is, and how every life is important.  His young mother welcomed us and talked of her son's fighting spirit; a fitting representative of the best of our American fighting forces.
     After making our rounds of the hospital, we returned to the Fisher House and served up our meal.  As I contemplated the huge dining room and its tables full of smiling faces, I didn't see missing limbs or devastated lives.  I saw a room full of courageous people; I saw champions and victors over the worst that war can inflict on a person.  And above all else, I saw the commitment, and the grace and mercy, that one person can give to another through the loving Spirit of Christ.  This is what Christmas should be all about!

1 Corinthians 13:7    "Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things."

   

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