A Veterans Day Tribute From A Military Caregiver
This is Veterans’ Day. I have asked Jennifer Ostan, a friend of ours and wife of a combat veteran, to share her perspective of this important day. Jennifer is married to Major (Ret.) Will Ostan, who served honorably in the U.S. Army for 12 years. She now serves as Will’s caregiver, which she will explain, and has found a community among other military/veteran caregivers through the Elizabeth Dole Foundation (HiddenHeroes.org). They have twin daughters who are also learning to share their stories as military caregiver kids. At the end of the post we’ve provided links to the organization the Ostans founded to serve our veterans, as well as other great groups who serve these heroes. Here is Jennifer’s story...
“I was sitting in my home office when I felt a breeze blow through the open window. It filled the room and was powerful enough to blow a card off of the decorative bulletin board I have on my wall. That board holds memories, special moments, and art prints that say things like, ‘Take it Day by Day’ and ‘Courage, Dear Heart’ - all visual reminders for my weary soul. The card that was carried to the ground by the gust of wind had a simple, but powerful picture on it – two pairs of shoes. One pair of red high heels and, next to those, a pair of tan leather lace-up military combat boots. Someone hand-made it with little cutouts of shoes and tiny little shoelaces that dangle off the card, just like the memories attached to them – so easily caught up in a breeze that likewise stirred them up in my mind. I opened the card to refresh my memory as to why I had it hanging there in the first place. It reads:
‘I believe 11-11 will always be an Anniversary, of sorts, for us. Thank you for loving me during my darkest hour. The best is yet to come!’
“My husband penned those words, not only as a Veteran, but as a wounded warrior, whose darkest hour has included fighting a rare disease from toxic exposure in Afghanistan. His words still ring true today, and I imagine they ring true for the more than 18 million veterans whose families, friends, and communities have loved and honored them in their darkest hours, all clinging to the hope that the best is still yet to come!
“I have never really thought of Veteran’s Day as an Anniversary – in the traditional sense - Like that of a wedding, a career, or a milestone we mark each year. Anniversaries prompt us to pause and reflect, to celebrate or mourn, and to take stock of years gone by and all they’ve held in both joy and sorrow. As I sit here, a few days away from Veterans Day 2021, I am gripped by the words in that card and the anniversary that approaches. I’m grateful that, as a Nation, we come together on one sacred day each November to honor the roughly 7% of our adult population who have fought our wars and sacrificed more than most could ever imagine. Many of those men and women are combat veterans who come back with wounds, both visible and invisible, and their families, friends, and loved ones have the sacred job of tending to them and bringing light into the inevitable dark days and moments ahead. As a nation, we all rally around the idea that not only is America worth fighting for, but her Veterans and wounded warriors are also worth fighting for and honoring upon their return.
“In contrast, we must also recognize that this Veteran’s Day is not just another anniversary or year gone by…this year has been extra hard on our nation’s heroes, and the domino effect it has had on their families and caregivers has been unbearable at times. With the events that unfolded in Afghanistan, a war that our Veterans have been a part of for 20 long, remarkable years, came an entire range of emotions, experiences, and convictions that rose to the surface. This is not just another day to find a Veteran and say “thank you for your service,” although that is always appreciated. This Veterans Day is an opportunity to understand, enter into empathy, and come alongside the heroes we honor and celebrate, to convey ‘I see you, I see your sacrifice, and you are not alone.’
“It is an opportunity to slow down, quiet our personal thoughts and opinions, and listen to the brave men and women who laced up those boots and bravely wore them into war. For out of their hearts, minds, and mouths will come stories we need to hear - if we will take time to ask and listen. Stories of sacrifice and courage, victory and defeat. Stories of heart-wrenching grief or infuriating anger and agony over the injustices seen and lived. Stories of families and allies left behind, both home and abroad. Stories of courage in the face of overwhelming fear. Stories of dodged bullets, close calls, and unspeakable tragedy that struck without a moment’s notice. Not all of these stories will come from the battlefield, however. Some of these stories originate on the home-front – where spouses and children, mothers and fathers, friends and brothers are bravely holding down the fort, experiencing all manner of challenges on their own, all tied to the service of their Veteran. These too, are among the oft’ overlooked and invisible casualties of war. No, this year is not like anniversaries past, it requires intentionality from us all.
“As I pinned that card back on my bulletin board, I was reminded of an eerily similar photo I have, taken the night my husband returned from Afghanistan. It captured my shoes, kicked off next to his tan Army boots and his military duffle bag at the front door. In that moment, when I took that photo – I had nothing but happiness and relief in my heart, believing that the worst was over. That surely I’d be celebrating each Veterans Day to come with nothing but pride and joy in my heart – for my young family had made it through another deployment with our soldier safely home. Little did I know, when I kicked off those bright red, polka dot shoes, I’d spend the next 8 years fighting alongside my Veteran, counting the many tangible costs of his sacrifice…our sacrifice. His physical body, ravaged by toxic exposure, reminds me daily of the vast, varying, and lasting effects of war - on him and countless others. Many of whom have been so brave to share their stories with those who will listen.
“Now to you, fellow Americans, who enjoy the liberties bought and paid for by brave volunteers living among us, in our homes, in our neighborhoods, in our hearts…to you, fellow Christians, who live in a nation that values honor and anniversaries, I challenge you to pause a little longer this Veterans Day…look a little deeper and listen more intently. This November, I challenge you to show up, even when you don’t know where to start. Whether that’s mowing a lawn, bringing a meal, leaving a note, or loving on their kids. Start somewhere. For this is not only how we remember, this is how we heal. We create safe spaces in our relationships to bring into the light all that has been loved, lost, and sacrificed, and we honor those who have lived those stories - both at war and on the homefront.
“We remember that this year came in like a gust of wind that knocked loose memories that had been pinned to the walls of war. We recognize that current events have jarred and jostled, tearing afresh the wounds – both visible and invisible. You and I have the sacred honor of tending to those wounds. This Veterans Day, would you ask the Lord, who sees all and feels all, to help you see and feel it too. It’s often the simplest gesture that speaks the loudest. For in our ‘slowing down’ and ‘standing alongside’ those who have selflessly served our nation, we speak into their hearts a burst of hope that says ‘you are not alone and the best is yet to come!’
Pray with me:
“Heavenly Father – we slow down today and we take a moment to pause and reflect on this anniversary, of sorts. We ask that You give us eyes to see and ears to hear, as we honor the brave men and women who have selflessly volunteered to serve in our Nation’s military, both past, and present - over decades of war. We bring before You the wounds they bear, both visible and invisible, and we ask for Your healing balm to soothe and repair. We count with them, and their caregivers, the costs of their sacrifice and ask You to restore in abundance all that has been lost. We pray that You comfort our Veterans and their loved ones who have witnessed the events unfolding in Afghanistan and experienced inexplicable trauma, anger, confusion, and more, all over again. We ask for empathy and understanding when their responses to these tragedies do not make sense to us. God, give us tangible ways to come alongside them and shine a light on the path to healing. Help us to find ways to celebrate, with honor, the liberties, peace, and safety we enjoy here in America because of our Veterans. We ask, Lord, that our words and actions convey gratitude for their service and supply hope for the future. We pray over them and their families John 1:5, ‘For the light shines in the darkness, and darkness has not overcome it.’
“In Jesus’ name, Amen.”
“Lord, we decree that each and every sacrifice, seen and unseen, at war and on the homefront, made by our Nation’s Veterans and their families, is real and valued. We declare honor and peace over our nation’s heroes on this Anniversary of their service, and we say the best is yet to come!”
For more on the Ostan Family’s story, visit arcofjusticeusa.org
Jennifer Ostan serves as the Co-Founder, Arc of Justice: Advocates for Wounded Warriors. She is a Dole Caregiver Fellow, South Carolina 2020-2021 (See Bio for More) for the Elizabeth Dole Foundation.
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