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Christmas 2009

Written at FOB Bostick, Afghanistan

Because none of us is as strong as all of us. Because when we care more about one another’s needs being filled and the happiness of one another, we get out of our own skin, and perhaps we love our brother as we love ourselves, and maybe, just maybe, we finally get it.

I am sitting here in the office enjoying my Aunt Kathy’s delicious Christmas delicacy, sausage balls. As I was walking around the FOB sharing them (because they really are a wondrous concoction of cheese, sausage and some flour-like substance holding that healthy goodness together) I was amazed how many folks had never encountered them before, and how many were pleasantly surprised at the magnificent tasty treat. Much like I may have responded with an immediate addiction to Chai the first time I sampled it in India. I won’t digress on that topic, save to say that I even correct the people at Starbucks that I “Chai Tea Latte” is really just chai, or milk chai as those who INVENTED it call it. And I also correct them on the terminology for small-medium-large, but now I am digressing. 

So SGT Rackley walks into the office that we all informally share with a bundt fruitcake. Not your store-bought, shelf-preserved fruit cake. No. One that someone lovingly bought embalmed and unnaturally-colored cherries to make. I could both hug and punch him, because this is definitely going to ruin my healthy eating this week. Yes, I love fruitcake so much that I don’t have the will power to resist it and I don’t care who knows. Give me your tired, your poor…your fruitcakes. Sounds like a motto for the nut house, eh? 


Our combat Stress doc who comes out to help our soldiers was in a medical conference in Jalalabad last week and they asked him why Americans struggle with depression when they have everything they could ever imagine. And that is a straight indictment coming from folks who live as though it was the 14th century, and hope some stray bullet or IED doesn’t take them out on the way to the market that week. 

And he responded by saying that Afghans are so busy working on just keeping alive and sustaining their needs that questions of happiness usually don’t come up in their waking life. When you are just trying to survive, you don’t think about self-actualization and ask esoteric questions like “who am I” and “why am I here.” It’s a little theory espoused by a psychologist named Abraham Maslow. Life on the bottom rung of the ladder can get tedious, but it is quite simple. 


And we just came back from Pirtle-King where we barged into all the barracks and handed out stockings filled with all the goodies that folks back home have shared with soldiers they will never know by name. And they laughed and smiled and shared the various and sundry fillings of their stockings, and traded amongst themselves when the saw their buddy pull out one of their favorite things from their stocking. And they were happy. And they poured out the contents into shared boxes in the room where everyone could come by and pick out candy or snacks whenever they wanted. 


And today we unpacked about 70 boxes in the FreeX, the result of being overly inundated with gifts from back home, and soldiers were able to pick out their favorite deodorant and food. And they found free socks and cards and books and magazines, and soon they will be able to check DVDs out from the FreeX just like you would at Blockbuster, and spend some time laughing at Will Ferrell in Old School or Elf, or relive the awesomeness of Red Dawn, or quote along with Boondock Saints. 


And in a few days, we will remember through ritual the manner in which God decided to share in our sufferings on this earth, and rather than stand back and remain comfortable, chose the form of a servant, stepping down from his throne without losing any of his kingly power and authority, and he walked alongside us. He was tired and experienced pain and grief and loss and death. He saw us mistreat one another and submitted himself to death based on a deep betrayal. He made friends and lost friends. He healed people who turned away and took him for granted. And yet chose to share. And from the stereo speakers I have to agree with David Crowder, Oh, how he loves us so. 


I love that soldiers share, they share in the cold, sleepless nights of being on guard and will go keep their brothers company when it isn’t even their shift and they could be sleeping. And they all jump in to help with details like filling sandbags or cleaning something when they see their brother sweating and struggling, because there is something in them that will not let them watch their brother bear the burden alone. I wish that it were a characteristic of all humanity, it just isn’t, but that isn’t to say that it isn’t the way God intended it to be. 


God speaks through his prophets time and again of sharing the burdens of homeless and widows and orphans and hurt and abandoned and aliens and oppressed and poor and all those people we build our gated communities to keep out. And deep in my heart I cry out, how can we continue to choose to live this way and still believe that we can identify with God, because if we live without loving all of those people there is no way he can identify with us, because that is not the life and path that he chose. And he loves us, oh how he loves us. 

Finally, there’s this image of heaven and hell I heard a preacher talk about once. This guy dies and Saint Peter wants to show him what he missed out on by not going to hell, so they take an elevator ride down to hell and when the doors open, there is this huge spread of food out on the table, Beautiful, gorgeous plates of whatever food you could want. And he is shocked because he can’t imagine that something so nice would be in Hell, right? But when the people start emerging from the darkness to sit down, he notices that all of their arms are tied to boards so they cannot bend them and feed themselves, and what was once a table of decadent satisfaction becomes a torturous unreachable temptation.

And the elevator door closes and they go back up to heaven and when it reopens, he sees the same scene, exact same table, and people emerging from the clouds with boards strapped to their arms in the same restrictive manner. He looks at Saint Peter, confused. And Peter, sensing that inquisitive stare replies, “Just wait.” And the people sit down, and rather than strain unsuccessfully to feed themselves, they begin feeding one another. 

That fruit cake is amazing, and helped to make my Christmas season that much better, and fulfilling. And tomorrow when we fill up some more stockings, I hope that will make some soldiers’ Christmas that much better. Because none of us is as strong as all of us. Because when we care more about one another’s needs being filled and the happiness of one another, we get out of our own skin, and perhaps we love our brother as we love ourselves, and maybe, just maybe, we finally get it.