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Honoring the sacrifices of many on Memorial Day. 

“In our own woundedness, we can become sources of life for others.” – Henri J.M. Nouwen

For more than a decade I’ve worked with the FOCUS Marines Foundation. This organization hosts struggling veterans for week-long retreats designed to provide support for complex physical and emotional issues related to military service.

The women and men who attend struggle with a range of challenges including PTSD, anxiety, depression, and addiction. Some have endured years of family struggles, homelessness, food insecurity and incarceration. Many were wounded in conflict overseas; some experienced self-inflicted wounds after coming home.

They courageously attend these retreats because they’re committed to finding a new reality for themselves and those they love.

A team of veteran peers, medical & mental health professionals and volunteers diligently plan, organize and execute these transformational experiences. I’ve been part of 30 of these events and one of the most moving experiences is always dinner on the second night.

For the past nine years Gail, Sheila, Marissa and Marie – affectionately known as The Brisket Ladies – have prepared an incredible homemade meal for the group. They have mashed a thousand pounds of potatoes and prepared more than two thousand pounds of brisket. Nearly 1,000 veterans have been fed dinner by these women who know that a meal can fill more than an empty stomach.

Although The Brisket Ladies prefer to work behind the scenes, after dinner they are coaxed into the spotlight by FOCUS leadership to be thanked for their tremendous effort. Inevitably the veterans appreciatively applaud the women.

And that’s when the veterans learn the profound story behind the meal. The veterans, with empty plates and full stomachs, learn that each of the ladies have spouses, uncles, brothers, daughters and sons who served in the Marine Corps. Knowing that these women acutely understand the life-changing consequences of military service, the veterans roar an appreciative, “Hoorah!”

Then a microphone is handed to the ladies to share an even deeper connection: They share that they’ve lost their Marine to suicide.

It’s a stunning and tragic connection that profoundly impacts every individual in the room.

On a particularly moving evening several years ago, one of the women spoke of her son, the joy he was to raise, and the pride she felt when he enlisted. She paused, gathered her thoughts and shared the agony felt every single day since his suicide. She went on to share, “Today would have been his birthday. And on this day that began his life, I beg each of you to recognize the value of your life. We certainly do.”

A moment earlier these were simply nice ladies who prepared the veterans a feast; now they walk off stage to a standing ovation from veterans who share their desire to serve something bigger than themselves and understand the agony of losing something utterly irreplaceable.

Friends, one meal feels small. It’s quickly consumed and easily forgotten.

But I can say with certainty that no one who has ever been in the room with the Brisket Ladies forgets how they were filled.

And no one forgets what the meal really represents.

On this Memorial Day, many of us will mark the day off with a meal of our own—maybe even with brisket. When you sit down to do so, I hope you’ll think of the Brisket Ladies, of my friends from FOCUS and of every service member whose life has been lost because of that experience.

I hope you’ll also pause to celebrate those that loved them, that miss them, and continue to courageously live for them. I know I will.

Today is their day. Live Inspired.

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