By RHONDA SCHROCK
At the school just up the road, the room is packed. It’s National Anthem Day, and the gym’s awash in a sea of red, white and blue.
I slip in the back to stand along the side. Bunting festoons the walls, and the wooden floor is full of children. From the smallest and weakest to the biggest and strongest, they’re standing tight, faces turned, shining, eager toward the center.
In the middle, there it stands. The symbol of our country, inspiration for many, the banner planted in rubble now 12 long years back — the American flag. And around it? Oh, around it stands a protective ring of men. Now stooped and gray, they circle that flag, and the music, it plays.
AND LIKE THAT, those men, brave warriors who fought on foreign shores, they salute. Right arms raised, faces resolute, the old soldiers, they honor their flag. My throat closes tight. I cannot sing. The children, they’re singing right strong, excitement and pride ringing loud, ringing true as the heroes salute, still, that flag.
I look over the gym where the flags dot the crowd, the children sing proud and the veterans limp past in a line. This soil where we stand, raise families, build homes, it was paid for with blood. Sweat. And tears. God, who plants us in countries, has given us this land. And I? Well, I’m giving thanks.
Then it’s his turn. Strong and clear, he begins to sing, “Oh, beautiful for spacious skies, for amber waves of grain, for purple mountains majesties...” His face, it shines with joy and peace, and once more, I cannot sing. For I know what price he’s paid, what he’s given up for the land of the grain and mountains majestic. Oh, I remember ...
LIKE THAT, I’m back on that sidewalk. It’s mere days before Independence Day when we celebrate our great freedom, and on this Sunday morning, we’re down on Main Street. ‘Cause he’s coming home.
The town has gathered. Up and down the sidewalks, folks are waiting. Waiting to honor, both him and his loved ones. To say “thanks” and “we’re sorry” and “it matters.”’ And then, there it comes. Turning at the square, it’s the hearse with his body and those he loved best coming, too.
I can still feel the deep, holy hush that fell then that day, flags waving all up and down. For Travis had paid all that one man could pay, and his family, they’d all paid, too.
“... above the fruited plains.” The man, Travis’ father, he’s finishing the verse. His mother’s just there at his dad’s right-hand side, and me, I can’t sing. For I know what these two have invested. I know what they’ve given for this land that we love; what they’ve given, and lost, and will gain.
TODAY, I’m thinking of freedom. Of liberty. Of sacrifice, cost and of heroes. I’m considering, too, our country’s direction, and I’m mulling over this truth, that a nation is only as free as its people are.
“Righteousness exalts a nation,” a wise king once said, “but sin is a disgrace to any people.”
Righteousness, exaltation. Sin, disgrace. Freedom of choice and those that imprison. These are the themes that play in my mind, overlying a snapshot of grizzled warriors encircling a flag as the Star Spangled Banner plays.
Righteousness, sin and the freedom to choose. Far from being an American idea, it was birthed in the mind of God from creation’s beginning. Man, God decreed, would have a choice, and the choice he would have would be clear. God or Satan. Christ or self. Righteousness or sin. The fruit of the one would be life, and the wages of the other would be death.
When a person chose God over Satan, Christ over self and righteousness over sin, then would come the sweetest kind of life. Upon such a one would rest the blessing and favor of God Himself, along with all the strength, provision and creativity to do the work he or she had been called to do.
Here was found the truest kind of freedom. Choosing to live by godly principles brought very heaven down to earth, and all around would be touched. From this one to his family, his friends, church and town would flow life, blessing and what the world sadly lacked — love. And so righteousness would exalt a nation.
Conversely, when one chose self over Christ and lived just that way, the wages were death and not life. The results were true bondage, poverty and need, a choice that brought hatred and strife. It was not heaven that came down to a home, then on out. It was the other, bringing reproach.
HERE’S WHAT I know. That while I cannot change a nation, and I can’t choose for you, I can still choose for me. And I choose life. Choose trust, love and obedience and walking in righteousness. For then heaven will come to my circle here and exalt this small corner of our nation.
With thoughts and prayers, still, to the family of Staff Sgt. Travis Hunsberger who paid the ultimate price. A grateful town here says “thanks.”