Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Soldier's Cross of Courage


As I write this, somewhere in Afghanistan or abroad, and American soldier has just been wounded or killed in battle. Let that sink in for a minute. You are in a safe place most likely, reading this in the comfort of your home on your phone, and an American soldier has just had his or her life ended or tragically changed forever. How humbling that is to me. For the past years I have watched the war on TV, got frustrated over it, not understood it really, but the reality of the cost to American lives and families never really sunk in until this week. Going to http://icasualties.org I checked to see if a soldier died today. The last soldier listed died Oct. 17th, Spc. Michael A. Dahl Jr., 23, of Moreno Valley, Ca.,died Oct. 17 in Argahndab, Afghanistan, of wounds suffered when enemy forces attacked his vehicle with an IED. He was assigned to 1st Battalion, 17th Infantry Regiment, 5th Stryker Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, Fort Lewis, Washington. Details about Spc. Dahl can be found here, http://freedomremembered.com/index.php/spc-michael-a-dahl/I don't know him, his family, what his life story was, all I know is that he is no longer with us and his family and friends are grieving the loss of someone they cherished and loved dearly. I can't really imagine. Because the media isn't allowed to show the caskets brought home on TV, I believe apathy sets in, at least for me I became desensitized to it, and for that I am horrified.

When I began the journey of painting crosses God put on my heart to paint one for our soldiers. For weeks I thought about it, how I would paint it, what it needed to have in it. The thoughts were not easy. I began researching lives of soldiers and how many wars Americans have fought in. I thought about my brother, my dad and uncles and cousins, my friends, and all who work and fought to serve our country. Then I began to pray and talk to God about it. After praying, the painting you see here began to evolve. A friend suggested the verse in Joshua but I was leaning towards one in Jeremiah. When she explained why the Joshua verse was so fitting, I prayed about it too, and God clearly said to share his story with soldiers, so I am. Joshua was going into battle himself, he was discouraged, he was afraid, and God said this to him: "
Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go."

What a powerful message, so it became the story and verse behind my motivation for this cross.
I knew I wanted each branch of the military represented, but I didn't want it to be political. I added the five main branches by painting their emblems. I then thought about soldiers who are Christians, who pray for their fellow brothers and sisters who serve, and who die in battle. But I also thought about soldiers of different beliefs as well, so I chose to pray for all of them. The center represents the soldiers cross. When a soldier dies, they put the rifle in the ground, hang his or her hat on it, and lay the boots at the base. What a powerful image. I also wanted to honor the unknown soldiers who died in battle, so I painted the memorial for that, with a soldier in salute. On the cross is an angel, arms around the soldier's cross, for protection of those who serve their duty to country. The cross itself is purple, the color of courage and of the purple heart. The green border line represents life, which I pray and claim for each soldier at home and abroad. The 21 red dots represent the 21 wars our country has fought since its creation. The face of the angel is tri-colored, representing soldiers of different races, but Americans, who fight and defend our country. The flag sits behind the cross, but most importantly, the words, IN GOD WE TRUST, sit on the cross, to remind all of us that OUR country was founded under God, and regardless of religions, we put our faith in him as Christians for protect our loved ones as they serve and to provide for their families here at home. The word COURAGE is bold, because it takes great courage to volunteer to leave one's family and country to go fight in a war to defend our freedom. Joshua 1:9 sits in the background, not to overshadow the cross, but to remind those who serve that they are not alone, that others have gone before them, and that God is with them , wherever they go in battle or service to country. It is also painted in yellow, but when you move to the left or right, it glows blue, a color true to our our nation.

That's what the colors and symbols mean, but this is what it means to me. For the past couple of weeks as I worked on this cross, my left arm and neck began to really bother me. I knew I had neck issues, and had just bragged about feeling better after spending a year recovering from a lumbar spinal fusion. I went to have an MRI and found out that I had ruptured a disc in my neck and have a spur that is impinging on the nerve. I now face a possible surgery, my 21st, but am praying there will be options to avoid that. As I knew my own body was in pain while I painted it occurred to me how much pain our veterans live with on a daily basis. How much pain a family endures when they watch their loved ones walk on that plane to be gone for a year or two, and most of all, how much pain a family feels when they hear the words that their loved one has died in action is pain I will never know. My pain is easy compared to that, so on I painted and on I prayed. I prayed for those we have lost, and those who have been injured. I prayed in thanks for those who serve to support us here, their families, who quietly do their duty each day with little thanks. I prayed in thanks for my brother and dad and family members who serve or have served their country and felt proud to honor them through this cross. And then I prayed that this cross would reach those it was meant for, that it would bring them hope, relieve their fears, and possibly put a smile on the face of at least one soldier sacrificing his or her all, so I could paint it. For that soldier and all of them, THANK YOU!

I pledge to honor our heroes, those who serve, and those who have fallen serving. Freedom is not free. My challenge to you is to choose to share this cross and its story with those you love, those who serve, and may it be an artistic way to remind us all to never forget, to lift up in prayer, and to never take for granted the sacrifices they give so that we may live such comfortable lives in our great country.
(To see the steps in the creation of this cross on FB join my fan page, The Artwork of Ardith Goodwin)

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