When the phone rang some time ago and I saw the California area code, I knew who it was, and my heart sunk a little bit. Not because I didn't want to talk to this person, but I knew the conversation would be one of heart break and courage, and I prayed I was up for it. Last year I painted the Soldier's Cross of Courage and blogged about the process. Part of that process was honoring the soldier who had died the day the cross was created, Michael Dahl Jr., and this phone call was from his mother. A mother whom I had never met or talked with, but one who loved her son deeply and wanted to say thank you.
Michael was the only soldier to die that day and after much prayer I knew it was in his honor that I used my artistic gifts to give a humble, simple thank you to him, and to all our service men and women who sacrifice so much so that I might live freely. This weekend is July 4th, Independence Day, and I find it quite beautiful that after a year of not being able to contact this family, and through the wise counsel of my mom, they contacted me. I had always wondered what Michael was like. My son is 19 and as I looked at him, I couldn't imagine what it would have been like to lose him. Patricia Dahl spent a good while sharing the story of her beautiful son with me, and here, I share a little bit of his story with you.
Michael was a Christian who loved God with his whole heart. She told me how he kept his electronic bible with him and he would seek out church services to attend. He was two weeks from coming home when an IED damaged the tank he was driving. Patricia told me how great of a son he was, that he had the opportunity to thank her for being a great mom, and was looking forward to coming home, with his best friend, and attending a Laker's game. His younger brother adored him and to me, he sounded like a really phenomenal human being, which made my heart hurt because of such an enormous loss this was.
After we talked for a while and exchanged our addresses I promised her I would send her a copy of the cross. I then went and read about his memorial service in his town of Beaumont, Ca. and it became quite clear how much he was loved and will be missed. Being an artist is rewarding in many ways, but I must say, this experience, to me, is what sharing our gifts with the world is all about. I could have been painting sea oats or magnolia leaves that day but I chose to listen to my heart instead. I'm grateful I did. Of course, I would have much rather learned about Michael for different reasons, but I trust the link where our paths crossed and know God will use it.
I still find it strange that in our day to day lives it is so easy to be unaware, or apathetic, towards the loss of life in the wars abroad because it doesn't touch us personally. I challenge you on this Independence Day weekend to find a soldier, learn about him, honor him, and really discuss what it means to live in an independent country. I will never look at the flag again without thinking about Michael, or the lives who were lost from the day our country drew its first breath. I will never watch the fireworks on July 4th without seeing past the beauty of them and not understanding the sacrifices so many make for me to sit and enjoy them either.
I love our country. I don't love war or the losses that happen because of them, but I understand the necessity of some of them. If I were a mother that lost a child due to the war, it would mean the world to me to know that he wasn't forgotten and didn't serve in vain. Thank you God for guiding my gifts to make a difference in one person's life. May I never take that gift for granted or forget what it means to be able to do what I love.
Here is the link to one of Micheal's memorial articles and the picture of the Soldier's Cross of Courage. If you feel led, please share Micheal's story.
Michael Dahl Jrs. Memorial Article
And here is the link to the original blog about the cross from last year:The Soldier's Cross of Courage
Happy Fourth of July to you and your loved ones!