“By helping others, you are a hero.”
Dale Gifford, Minister, speaking at Harding University, January 24, 2007, at his son’s memorial service.
“Heaven holds All to me.”
Marsha Gifford, in a letter after the death of her son, Micah.
Late in 2006, two men in army uniforms (a sergeant and chaplain) rang a doorbell in Redding, California. Without words, Dale and Marsha Gifford knew why they came. An improvised explosive device (IED) had taken the life of their 27-year-old son Micah while supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Before Micah was born, I met his dad Dale at a Bible camp. He was what I wanted to be; a minister. Years later, I toured Europe with a group that included Dale’s irrepressible wife Marsha. Micah was the youngest of their three boys.
In college, Micah was a defensive lineman and linebacker for the Harding University Bisons. He graduated in 2002 with a degree in business administration but his goal after school was to become a firefighter. After learning of some gruesome beheadings in Iraq, he enlisted in the US Army. People run in different ways at the sight and sound of horrific danger. You already know which way Micah ran. He said, “I have to do something, I have to help out.” Micah made the supreme sacrifice for his country.
At Micah’s memorial service at Harding on January 24, 2007, his father Dale told his fellow mourners,
Losing his life to a terrorist bomber did not make Micah a hero. He had been a hero his whole life. He had a heart for others — from the church camps, youth groups, mission trips to Honduras and Mexico — to talking to his fellow soldiers in Iraq about Christ.
Dale defined heroism for his son’s grieving friends; “By helping others, you are a hero.”
Micah’s mom, Marsha, found some solace expressing herself on e-mail to her friends and reading responses filled with comfort and gratitude. In one letter, Marsha reported, “He loved this country and he loved serving it . . . We did not lose our son. We know where he is.” She signed her letter. “Heaven holds ALL to me.”
Citizenship in heaven can carry a believer through the worst earthly nightmares conceivable. Heaven, in the end, is everything. We rent here on earth with a mission from God, but we own a home in heaven, by God’s grace.
Marsha also remembers taking a bouquet of flowers to Micah’s grave at the Fort Rosecrans National Military Cemetery in San Diego, California, on Point Loma overlooking the ocean. She rested at his headstone for hours. Inscribed on it are the initials “BSM” and “PH” ( “Bronze Star Medal” and “Purple Heart”). While absorbing her pride, Marsha tells of a “delicious, temperate breeze which playfully tangled my hair, ruffled the folds of my dress, and whispered a constant low pitched hum, like a mother’s song as she rocks her baby.” She continued, “God was holding me.”
Later, in a personal letter, Marsha got practical with a here and now challenge that I carry with me always:
]Make a difference, even if it’s only one person at a time . . . Take an EXTRA STEP and stand up and SAY what is RIGHT… oppose what is WRONG!” (all caps are Marsha’s).
Her son was unafraid to stand in the gap. Marsha was challenging me and others to do the same. What else could a mother do with her pride?
I consider it a Christian virtue to be deeply grateful for my American heritage and for those who sacrificed to pass that heritage on to me. To accept Marsha’s challenge, I posted a picture of Micah Stephen Gifford on the inside of my office door so that his face will remind me of the gratitude and courage I must carry in my heart whenever I leave my office.
The views expressed on this blog are personal and belong to Joel Solliday unless otherwise stated. They are not, intended to characterize the views of the Lewiston Church of Christ or other organizations to which I may refer.