How One Veteran Discovered Deeper Gratitude in Iraq

I could feel the heat. As a military chaplain in Iraq, I had experienced higher overall temperatures, but this was different. Maybe it was a combination of the desert dust, stress, body armor, and expectation. Or maybe it was the pure boredom wrapped in the tension of what may come. I don’t know. All I know is I was concealed with 40 guys in a far flung military outpost few had ever heard of, an outpost whose existence wasn’t recognized until a year later.

It took four plane rides, a dozen hours in a convoy of SUV’s, and over a week to get there. I only stayed for about twenty-four hours. But those twenty-four hours impacted the rest of my life due to a deep, yet light conversation – a conversation that inspired me to permanently tattoo a word into my skin: “eucharisteo.”

Two Soldiers & Gratitude

At about midnight, I was exhausted, but two of my favorite Soldiers sat down with me, and we caught up on life. We shared what was going on at home. The younger of the two had just found a facebook message from his fiancé back home. She broke off the engagement. Too much time away. Too much distance. She decided to move on.

We hurt with him. He had just seen her facebook message earlier in the day, and it was already 3 weeks old. We sat with him in the dirt and mourned his loss. But, there was something deeper going on within him  – he knew where he was at and the impact it would have on history. It was worth it.

As the three of us sat there, we all felt something and started getting restless. I brought up a book I was reading. I brought up “eucharisteo.” I had heard of the word “eucharist,” but never thought much of it its root word or Greek origin. Whenever I thought “eucharist,” I thought of the Catholic Church. Being a Non-Denominational Chaplain I didn’t realize what it meant beyond the bread and the cup of communion. But Anne Voskamp, the author of One Thousand Gifts, changed all that for me. She talks about the word meaning “to be grateful, feel thankful,” and “give thanks.” While I was in the Middle East, the theme of continual gratitude was on the forefront of my mind all of the time.

I asked those Soldiers what they were thankful for. “Oh man, that ice today was great! It was the first time in a month we’ve had something cold!” Gratitude.

Then the other piped up. “I got to take a shower today – first one in a week and a half.” Thankfulness.

Earlier, we had celebrated half of this duo’s birthday. When I had arrived to the outpost, I gave him a package. It was a gift from his family back home. He shared it with his Army family. As we all enjoyed it, he smiled with a look of fully present gratitude on his face. Fully present gratitude in the midst of a war. The deep black of the Iraqi sky and the dusty mountain ranges looming in the distance will forever be imprinted in my memory along with the depth of gratitude these men showed to me that night.

These guys taught me a lesson I didn’t know I needed to learn. They taught me the simplicity of gratitude in all circumstances. A small conversation transformed into a holy moment. The genuine thanksgiving for a cool drink and the heartfelt gratitude for a 3 minute shower made me realize how much I overlook God’s good gifts to me – no matter how simple or elaborate they are. I closed my eyes and silently thanked God for placing me there to share in “eucharisteo” with them. We sat for about an hour more, talking and listening. These were no longer boys, but men with a perspective of deep gratitude.

Welcome Home

Later that year, when I landed back in the United States, an older man welcomed us with warmth. He instructed us to turn around and walk down a hallway where there were coffee and donuts waiting for us. I turned around to face a set of double doors. I walked through them and was instantly greeted by Vietnam era vets, brothers and sisters from another war. These were brothers and sisters who had not been welcomed home. These were brothers and sisters who paid a huge cost for our country and were rebuked for it, spit on, chastised, and poisoned by Agent Orange. They arrived before sunrise, well into the middle of the night – to welcome us home.

I heard the words, “You did it! You made it back!” “Well done!” “We are here for you!” “Welcome home, brother!” They hugged us, shook our hands, and their wives kissed us on the cheeks. They looked at us with eyes of compassion, but also eyes that understood where we’d been and what we had experienced. They smiled with sincerity in a way you’d have to see to understand. I thought, “I bet this is what walking into Heaven will be like.”

I cried tears of joy and of sadness. Joy for being home. Sadness because my dad is a Vietnam vet. His comrades gave me what he never received: a welcome home.

Gratitude on Veteran’s Day

Even as I write this, my heart is stirred with deep gratitude. When I think of Veterans Day, I’m thankful for the men and women who will stand and protect us – no matter the personal cost to them.  They go on behalf of a nation, not a government. They go on behalf of you the citizen, not on behalf of the politicians. Like my friends, many lose fiancés and spouses in breakups and divorces. Many of them have missed birthdays and holidays with their families. And many of them have lost their lives or limbs. Even worse, many have taken their own lives because of the rejection, sadness, and depression that overwhelmed them.

As Veterans Day is upon us and Thanksgiving not far after, I want to invite you to say more than, “Thank you for your service!” If you are going to reach out to one of my brothers or sisters in the military, please say more. First, ask yourself: why are you thankful to live in America? What freedoms do you usually overlook or take for granted? Then, tell a veteran why you’re specifically thankful to live in a free country after you thank them. Hearing your “why” reminds a veteran it was all worth it.

My life is forever changed in a variety of ways due to military service, but the most important thing I learned from my time as an Army Chaplain is how to live in a deeper state of being grateful, feeling thankful, and giving thanks. In a state of “eucharisteo.”

Editor’s Note: Adam, the author, works with REBOOT Recovery. REBOOT Recovery exists to help veterans, first responders and their families heal from the moral and spiritual wounds associated with a service-related trauma. Please offer your time or donate to their highly effective ministry by clicking here:

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Adam Lavigne
Adam Lavigne

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