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Remembering A Soldier

The last few weeks have been difficult because starting with Memorial Day, I went out to the cemetery and put flowers on Walter’s grave. I still do this periodically. I know that he is in heaven now, but, this is where they laid his body and I want someone to know that he was loved. Last Sunday, on June 1st my family and I presented the 5th Annual Walter F. Burnett, Jr. Memorial Scholarship award to two very deserving young ladies. And then Tuesday was my wedding anniversary. I’ll always celebrate my wedding anniversary because it was such a special day in my life and it was the beginning of a beautiful journey with the love of my life, Walter. And, so, I have had several weeks filled with cherished memories and reflection.

Each year that we’ve given the Scholarship, I spend the night before anxious that I will say the right thing and that the people we have selected will truly understand that this award means more to us than just writing a check. It really was born from the love we still feel for my late husband, Walter. Each year when the applications come in, we read them over carefully, pray over them, and give serious thought before making our decision. We always believe that God sends us the students who are supposed to receive this scholarship award. This Scholarship was developed because when Walter died he took a piece of my heart with him and the only way I knew how to deal with such a great loss was to somehow make other people understand how special he was too. I am glad that we can honor his memory in this way because he was such a kind and generous person and I know he would be so proud to know that college students who may have never known him will benefit from his life. He always told me that he wanted to leave something good behind in this world and he has. Walter left many people who respected and loved him dearly and now there will be many people who can say that they were given a Scholarship in his honor to help them with college expenses.

Walter was not a perfect man, because the only perfect man that walked this earth was Jesus, but, he was a very honest and sincere man who had overcome so many obstacles before we met. He earned my respect because of his honesty and how he was able to change his life for the better. He was also a very caring and compassionate person who understood people and loved them with all their flaws. He never met a stranger. He could carry on a conversation with anybody, anywhere. If he went to the grocery store with me, he had a friend before the end of our shopping trip and they were shaking hands and calling each other by their first names. If you were around Walter for any period of time you could not help but have a good day because his smile and laughter were contagious.

I loved Walter because he not only respected me and showed me what a loving and faithful husband was supposed to look like; he also loved my two children. They were teenagers at the time we met and it could’ve gone terribly wrong if he had not been the kind and patient man that he was. In the five years since his death, I have tried to continue his legacy of love, laughter and a zest for life by how I live my own life. Walter loved the Lord, just as I did and he loved life more than anybody I knew. There were some days when I just didn’t understand how he could be so upbeat in spite of the years of pain that he endured with end-stage kidney failure, vascular disease and congestive heart failure. But, even though there were certainly many times that we cried together, especially when he lost one leg and then six months later, the other one and I knew he’d never walk again, that was tough, and for a time his sadness worried me, but, we just held on to each other and to God, and to the wonderful friends we had that embraced us during that time and did whatever they could to make our lives bearable, and we got through it, together.

I also saw my family grow even closer during that time of Walter’s illness. My son helped me by taking Walter to dialysis or picking him. My daughter came over on Saturdays to sit with him so that I could have some free time to run errands and just breathe for a moment. We all pulled together as a family. And, Walters’ sisters pooled their resources together to make our bathroom and hallway handicap accessible and a friend of mine’s husband did the work for us, free of charge. One of my best memories, is when Walter’s Bible study group and our neighbors all got together to build a patio in our back yard so that Walter would be able to sit outside on nice days in his wheelchair. One of our neighbors, Rob, kept our yard cut and trimmed for two whole years just out of kindness. Before Walter was disabled, he absolutely loved working in the yard and planting flowers and even a vegetable garden. He used to share all the vegetables he grew with our neighbors and friends.

So, when it’s time to review the scholarships each year, I reflect back on those times and how Jesus blessed us during a time that seemed impossible to even live through. I search the applications, not just for their GPA, but for the character of the people who apply. Are they kind and compassionate people? Do they actually care about others even if their own circumstances are not what they would want them to be? Because while getting good grades is very important, so is being a good person, like Walter was. Do they have what it takes to endure through hard times because in this life? All those things are so important because in this life nothing is promised.

I’m grateful and I’m thankful that out of all the pain and dark days that Walter had to endure at the end of his life that something beautiful has come from it and each year largely because of the generosity of others, our family is able to stand strong and bless someone else in Walter’s memory. My prayer is that this Scholarship will be around for many, many years to come.

To God be the Glory!

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