One of the memories of my days at the FBI was leaving work on a bitter winter night and seeing bundles of rubbish piled on the street grill. I was shocked to realize there was a human being lying there trying to keep warm from the steam rising. I never forgot that sight and carried it with me for more than 30 years before I acted and returned to that scene with a resolve to feed and clothe my friends with warm coats and blankets.
This is why I make the pilgrimage to Washington DC every year to spend Christmas Eve and Christmas Day in the dark alleys and lonely streets with the homeless. The city is emptied of its ordinary daily bustle as everyone has gone home to celebrate the joys of the season with friends and family. All but those who have no home to go to.
I do not return alone. Each year the Lord brings a team of volunteers together. Now 20 others join me who have the heart to befriend the hidden lost people of the streets. We call it Operation Silent Night.
We often begin our trek on the streets with the tradition of going to Arlington National Cemetery to pay homage at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and to remember all those that sacrificed their lives. Inscribed in the marble of the western panel overlooking the city are these words…
HERE RESTS IN
KNOWN BUT TO GOD
It is a sobering and solemn experience which helps us to be sensitive to the displaced veterans that we see living on the streets.
One year we honored them all by laying a wreath at The Tomb that had a ribbon with Operation Silent Night. As I walked that afternoon with the escorting soldiers and three of my volunteers who had served in the military, I thought, surely this will be one experience to remember.
But it was another year in that same location that topped it all.
Our team had spent the morning packing food, and loading the bus with items. It was around 4 p.m. when we all piled into the little bus and headed for the annual visit to Arlington. The team quietly walk down the sidewalk, respecting the little sign that says Silence and Respect and stood with a large crowd to watch The Changing of the Guard, which occurs every hour on the hour. The weather was warm for December and there were many people gathered to watch the event.
Because of my MS, I had to use my Rollator walker to make the distance. The walker has a built-in seat so that I can sit when I become tired.
I stayed at the edge of the granite plaza as I felt I needed to make an early exit to beat the crowd as soon as things were over. I slowly ambled down the sidewalk and stop by the walkway where the soldiers marched to go back to their barracks. Sitting there on my walker alone and away from the crowd, I watched as the soldier that had just been relieved of his duty marched ever so slowly and reverently towards me with his rifle over his shoulder. I felt so overwhelmed by such gratitude for his service that I made a fist with my hand and very slowly took my fist and hit my heart three times and then pointed to him.
He never blinked but continued his rhythmic pace, turned, marched down the stone steps and disappeared into the dim recess of the barracks. I quickly glanced back at the crowd only to realize another soldier was marching towards me. He was a Sergeant of Arms and was not carrying a rifle. Once again, I acknowledged and thanked him by hitting my heart and then it happened…
He continued his slow-stepping march but then his arm began to move so slowly and precisely with each step and he gave me the same salute that he had given to the fallen Unknown Soldier. A few more marching steps and his arm slowly went back into position. While the crowds of people began to pour out of the plaza arena, I sat there in silence completely overwhelmed with tears.
I will never forget that experience and the stranger that God sent. I will be forever grateful to those that have laid down their lives for me that I can live in freedom and peace.
That memorable trip to Arlington reminds me of a prayer that I had to recite as a child back during my speech therapy days. Out of all the poems I had to learn in order to teach my voice to fluctuate, was this prayer that I never tired of reciting.
Our Father, up in heaven,
Hear this fervent prayer–
May the people of All Nations,
Be United in Thy Care,
For earth’s peace and man’s salvation
Can come only by Thy grace
And not through bombs and missiles
And our quest for outer space.
For until all men recognize
That “The Battle Is The Lord’s”
And peace on earth cannot be won
With strategy and swords,
We will go on vainly fighting,
As we have in ages past,
Finding only empty victories
And a peace that cannot last.
But we’ve grown so rich and mighty
And so arrogantly strong,
We no longer ask in humbleness –
“God, show us where we’re wrong”.
We have come to trust completely
In the power of man-made things,
Unmindful of God’s mighty power
And that He is “King Of Kings”.
We have turned our eyes away from Him
To go our selfish way,
And money, power and pleasure
Are the gods we serve today.
And the good green earth God gave us
To peacefully enjoy,
Through greed and fear and hatred
We are seeking to destroy.
Oh, Father, up in heaven,
Stir and wake our sleeping souls,
Renew our faith and lift us up
And give us higher goals,
And grant us heavenly guidance
As war threatens us again.
For, more than Guided Missiles,
All the world needs Guided Men.
–Helen Steiner Rice
What more perfect gift can be given than the giving of oneself? I am indebted to those who lie in Arlington National Cemetery for my earthly peace and freedom. I hit my heart that day to express thanks for the price paid. It was a small gesture that was rewarded by an eternal memory.
This is the time of year when carols are being sung everywhere about the sweet baby in the manger. But we must not forget the reason that Jesus came. He came as an innocent child but he grew to be a man that knows our sorrows and took our sins upon himself. He came to pay the ultimate price, to give his life and be that sacrifice, that I, and you, might know spiritual peace and freedom. He is the Prince of Peace. The Mighty Counselor. The Lamb that was slain from before the foundation of the world. He is the King of kings and Lord of lords. This is the reason the angels sang “Peace on Earth.”
May you experience His peace in 2019,
Sue Thomas Ministries