Without Them

Today I am grateful.  It’s Fourth of July weekend.  The celebrations and barbecues and fireworks have begun.  Flags are flying and I am freely “moving about the cabin” of my life.  Today I celebrate the freedoms that we as Americans have to choose our path, to dream, to fail, to succeed, to decide.

At the end of last year, our family decided that in the year 2017 we would open The Bretts Show in September instead of April, as we normally do.  This was a very painstaking decision because it was so out of our norm.  There were many contributing factors, but, as this year has played out, we have realized there were many other reasons that only God knew about.  Only He would know that during the very same week, that for the past 18 years we have opened our show here in Branson, I would be in Utah with all of my brothers and sisters, helping my Dad move from his home into assisted living.  It was a very difficult yet supremely precious time with my family that my Heavenly Father knew I would not want to miss.   

This decision has also given me the opportunity to do something I’ve wanted and felt compelled to do for many, many years – put my poem, “I Am a Veteran” into book form.  It is that project that leads me to write this blogpost this morning, because through the process of putting this book together I am becoming more acutely aware and more deeply grateful for the men and women who have sacrificed so much for my freedom. 

For years, I imagined this book to be a series of photographs that would accompany and illustrate each line of the poem.  As I got deeper into the project and through a series of providential events, I decided that instead of using photographs, I would employ the help of talented artists to create pencil drawings.  My role in this process would be to choose photographs for the artists to draw their inspiration from.  I thought that would be simple enough, but I soon realized that it was much harder than I thought to find photos to fit my criteria (a description of that criteria is beyond the scope of this blog!)  Since February, I have spent countless hours looking at thousands and thousands and thousands (did I mention thousands?) of photographs to find inspiration pieces for forty four original, full color pieces of art.

I have spent months at my computer, immersed in military photographs.  I have seen images of courage, pain, compassion, strength, despair, pride, fellowship…    At times, it has overwhelmed me.   I have cried, I have laughed, I have sighed, I have gasped and I’ve realized that there is no way for me or for anyone who hasn’t lived it to know the heart of a soldier and what it really means to be a veteran.  There are countless stories that will never be told, and even for those stories that are told, there are not words in any language to fully capture their truth.  These are stories known only to these individuals and to God. 

One of the wonderful benefits of the process I’m going through to create this book is how it is increasing and deepening my awareness of the people behind my freedom.  My desire for the book is to create a beautiful offering that truly honors these individuals.  One of its main purposes, and the purpose of this blog post today, is to get the rest of us thinking of what their stories might be, and to help us be more thankful for these men and women in our country who have written and are writing those stories.  Maybe there is a veteran or serviceman or woman in your path who would love the opportunity to share their story, if only asked.  I know, even more certainly now, that whether the stories are shared or held in the heart, it is because of them we are free.  Without them there would be no 4th of July fireworks.  Without them, there would be no ___________________.  I invite you to finish that sentence for yourself, and join me in being grateful today! 

If you are on Instagram, you can search #iamaveteranpoem to see other "in progress" drawings from Andrea's "I Am a Veteran" book project.