Just a thought: I am proud to be an American

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I’ve been an American my entire life. Although I was born in Nigeria to missionary parents, my parents returned to the states when I was two. I sometimes wonder what life would have been like had I remained in Nigeria and grown up under the Nigerian government. But, because I was born to American citizens, I was born an American. I have been an American from the first breath I took. I am proud to be an American.

Most of us were born into this world an American. We have grown up here in this country. Most of us come from parents who also were born and raised in America. We really can’t imagine what it would be like to be raised in another country that has an oppressive government. Our view of the world is set by our background and our experiences. Because of this we take for granted the rights and privileges that come along with being an American.

Things which are given to us we often take for granted. We appreciate more the things we earn. If we flip a switch and heat always comes out of the vents in our home, we take electricity and heating units for granted. If we have to cut trees and chop and haul wood to fuel our fireplace, we appreciate more the warmth we receive.

We didn’t choose to walk aboard a big ship in a foreign land and to travel across the ocean to the land of opportunity. Neither did most of our parents. We didn’t choose to seek U.S. citizenship and to move north from Mexico. In most cases, whether it was crossing an ocean or a river, one of our ancestors made this decision ahead of us.

Wouldn’t it be great to have an hour or two to visit with those ancestors who first became Americans and hear what they have to say about coming to the land called “America?” In my case, my great, great- grandfather, Maximillian Kraft, traveled to America from Germany in 1881. With him came the heritage of my last name.

Sunday we celebrate our country’s birthday. This Fourth of July my wish would be to sit down with Maximillian and ask him about journeying to this new land. What was life like in Germany? Why did he choose to become an American? What was it like spending day after day on the boat anxious about immigrating to a new land? What did he do when he first got off the boat? Was this new country what he expected? Was America a better place to live than Germany? I suspect there is no other Kraft in my family tree who has been more appreciative of being an American than Maxmillian Kraft.

At the Statute of Liberty on Ellis Island in New York are these words written by Emma Lazarus in 1903, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me. I lift my lamp beside the golden door.” Did my ancestors fit into one or more of these categories?

America has done quite well for being such a young country. We live in a country that didn’t even exist 250 years ago. We were created to be a land of opportunity. We continue today as a land of opportunity. But today we are made up of individuals who take the opportunities they have available for granted. The Joni Mitchell song went, “Don’t it always seem to go, that you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone!” I believe most of us don’t know what we have. I pray the day does not come when we learn this because it is taken from us.

Our country is not without fault. It has many areas which need improving. Some citizens loudly voice their criticism of the government. Our country can and will improve through criticism, as long as it is not destructive. We are also doing many things right. As problems are identified and solutions are sought, it is much easier to stand back and throw stones than to step out and lead and build. This country, “America,” is a package deal. It has both strengths and weaknesses.

I believe that today we live in the greatest country in the history of the world. A country that, despite its many flaws, empowers each of us to bring about change and the freedom to challenge whatever flaw we choose to focus on. Change is often not easy and can be slow and costly. But change is possible in America at a time when change equates to death in other countries.

Despite countless limitations, we have as great of freedoms as a citizen of America as citizens of any other country in existence today. The First Amendment to the Bill of Rights approved December 15, 1791 empowers us: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of people to peacefully assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

How often do you take the freedom to attend a church of your choice for granted? When is the last time you stopped in the middle of a sentence and thought, “If I continue this thought, it is treason and I can be put to death?” Have you been at a meeting recently where you were fearful that law enforcement was going to break through the door, handcuff you, and take you away to jail?

We have so many freedoms that we take them for granted. But our freedoms did not come without a price.

Everything good we are able to enjoy is the result of someone paying the price. Sometimes we pay the price ourselves. Often someone else paid the price before us. When we drink from the well, we need to remember those who went ahead of us and dug it. The well we draw from did not dig itself. We need to only lower and raise our bucket to drink the fresh cool water. Those who went before us gave of their lives so we can enjoy the fruits of their efforts. We reap the benefits because of those who sweat before us.

It is those who risked their life who we need to be grateful to. It is those who gave their life who we need to be grateful to. To those who served in our country’s armed forces, all gave some, but some gave all. We need to remember those who gave some. We need to remember those who gave all and their surviving families. The parents of these veterans didn’t raise heroes, just loyal children who made the choice to protect this great country called America and became heroes in the process.

Lee Greenwood said it best in his song “God Bless the USA”: “If tomorrow all the things were gone I’d worked for all my life. And I had to start again with just my children and my wife. I’d thank my lucky stars to be living here today. ‘Cause the flag still stands for freedom and they can’t take that away. I’m proud to be an American where at least I know I’m free. And I won’t forget the men who died who gave that right to me. And I gladly stand up next to you and defend her still today. ‘Cause there ain’t now doubt I love this land. God Bless the U.S.A.!”

My challenge to you is to take time this week to recognize the freedoms which come with being an American. Don’t take the basic rights and privileges that come with our citizenship for granted. They did not come cheap. They came with a price: A price paid by those who have gone ahead of us.

When you sit securely in your lawn chair and look up into the night sky and watch the fireworks burst into red, white, and blue, remember you are able to do so because others who have been proud to be an American have fought for your freedom. Be proud to be an American. I sure am.

Just a thought...

Rick Kraft is a motivational speaker, a syndicated columnist, a published author, and an attorney. To submit comments, contributions, or ideas, e-mail to rkraft@kraftlawfirm.org or write to P.O. Box 850, Roswell, New Mexico, 88202 - 0850.

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