Remembering Memorial Day – what a Soldier did for his younger brother on his wedding day

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photo 1With all the festivities surrounding my middle olive shoot’s wedding on Saturday #hartleywedding

The emotions, planning, celebrating and expectation

I forgot about Memorial Day

Until yesterday driving home from Delaware!

Though we never forgot about our oldest son who is deployed in Qatar

And longed for him to be with us physically

Our hearts broke with the reality that wasn’t going to be possible

But we found a way to bridge the distance

Nate was a part of the ceremony

I’m still trying to take it all in – the beauty of the day, the sweetness of the Lord

photo 5Where do I begin?

On this Memorial Day, I honor my Soldier

I was escorted down the aisle by my orange hair, freckle face OS – so proud was I for this honor

But my husband didn’t walk alone behind me –

Parting from tradition, the Hubs was also escorted –

Our Soldier “walked” with his dad, carried on my husband’s iPhone

Then our Army Ranger “sat” on his dad’s lap and saw the wedding from the same perspective as the rest of us

It was about 6:15PM, Qatari time

Nate wore his Army fatigues

Observing the event in the middle of a desert

The pastor welcomed family and friends

He paused and told the crowd of about 140 people

Someone very significant was missing from the wedding

Aaron’s older brother, Nate

At that moment, this YouTube video was played

Our Army Ranger welcomed his new sister into the family and he read 1  Corinthians 13 from the Bible

photo 4

Nate reverently saw the bride and groom exchange vows thanks to Facetime

Oh friends, if you knew what comfort it was to have Nate with us

It’s a good thing I was sitting because I would have needed a chair

Such was the extent of pride and love I carried within me

In a way, we have already celebrated Memorial Day

We represent countless military families that get creative

Surmount the obstacles and offer support

What a day, what a life, what a fount of blessings

I scarce can take it in…

 

 

 

 

When you’re a military family, Veterans’ Day takes on a whole different meaning

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2013-07-12 11.21.47Soon

very soon

my West Point grad, my Army Ranger, my handsome, beloved son will go to a faraway place

Not for vacation

Or to get married – though this will happen soon enough

But somewhere distant that brings a sense of fear over me if I’m having one of those days.

And so this whole Veterans’ Day thing is much more meaningful to me than it was, let’s say ten years ago.

(She types embarrassingly).

Last Friday, my orange hair, freckle face olive shoot sang in the school choir for a local Veterans’ Day celebration.

2013-11-08 18.18.25That in and of itself, is notable since Ike will not be dropping a CD anytime soon though he jokes that he is the songbird of his gen- eration. Hearing him sing, “God Bless America” and “Battle Hymn of the Republic” (my personal favorite) caused me to grab the bag of tissues I brought expressly for that purpose.

My tears were mixed though because this year, another veteran in the family was missing. My father-in-law. For reasons we will probably never understand this side of heaven, he has been taken from us. Not by death but by a person. Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia contributed to the cause but the cruelty of it all is too painful to even share.

Grey-haired military people filled the community center. These folks still beam with pride when their song is played. It was not a time of  preference over which branch served – Army, Marines, Coast Guard, National Guard, even Navy (inside Army joke), were honored equally. There was solidarity and appreciation. I was among the ranks of those who love the “Armed Forces Salute” although apparently many of Ike’s classmates noted that I spazzed out during the Army song. I tried to be as discreet as possible! I couldn’t help it!

Two proud chunksters

Two proud chunksters

But little did I know, I wasn’t the only one who got choked up during the per- formance.

A certain someone whose name I can’t mention also had to push back the tears. It’s hard to sing and cry. Thinking about his brother, re- membering his grandpa, watching the 93-year-old man sputtering out Taps on his trumpet maybe for the last time, it got to a certain little stoic olive shoot. For the record, he DID NOT cry, he just wanted to for a brief, oh so brief moment!

As an American, I find myself proud of how we honor our veterans. In Brazil, for example, they do not have such a holiday. They have Children’s Day, Dentist Day and Teacher Day but no Veterans’ Day. To serve in the military is a rarity and something not especially appreciated according to my reliable source, my borrowed Brazilian olive shoot. They are proud of their country but those in the armed forces do not receive any special recognition for their service. I thought all countries had their own Veterans’ Day.

Today I remember those in my family who are in the military, past and present. I remember our honored friend, Colonel Eric Kail who was my son’s mentor whether he knew it or not. We love and miss him. Thank you all, bless you all. Happy Veterans’ Day.

Here is Ike and others in the choir singing “God bless America.” It is the land that I love.

Seeing Nate for the first time after completing Ranger School

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No sooner had we arrived at our hotel near Fort Benning, when Nate called to check on our travel schedule. We had just put our bags in the room and the Hubs and I begged and pleaded to see him immediately!

2013-07-10 15.57.58

After all we had been through – the driving, the praying, the waiting, the stress, the letters, the gum, the recycling, followed by the driving, the praying, the feeding, the laundry, the eight-hour pass, the stress, the care package, the recycling (twice), etc., we deserved to see this guy, don’t you agree?

Twenty minutes later, we were hugging our Soldier. Considering everything he had been through during Ranger School, our boy looked great. We learned later that the men are well fed and hydrated before we get to see them. My mama’s heart quaked at the thought of seeing him emaciated and zombie-like. Instead, we were able to enjoy conversation and see that his spirit was still very much intact after the Ranger experience. His waist looked smaller but he didn’t have a sunken chest or hollow eyes which was something I really dreaded.

Perhaps the only glimpse I had of him not being in complete reality was when I asked him to take this picture. Had my Soldier been his usual self, he might not have stood in front of the car and posed for a few shots with this sign in the background.2013-07-11 16.20.58

Yes it’s super corny and if the tables were turned, it would have probably annoyed me when I was his age but Nate indulged my parental pride.

Careful to not push it too much, I did, however ask permission before I told our server at the restaurant that he was dealing with a Ranger. When Nate said, “NO!” I refrained and just prayed for an opportunity to casually mention the fact.

Turns out, I didn’t have to force it because soon enough, we learned that our server was a former Ranger who had been injured while serving his country. There are many broad-shouldered military types in the Fort Benning/Columbus, Georgia area.

Nate’s brothers and a family friend were on their way to celebrate this milestone. In my next post, I’ll share some reflections on that special time.

RLTW!

Btw, if you want to read an actual Ranger’s account about the experience, click here!

$40 or $60? We have our answer and it’s good

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We got the news!

$40 ATM withdrawal!2013-07-07 14.48.02

It is a proud and significant moment in our Soldier’s life. He did all the work, we have merely been behind the scenes cheering him on but I’m telling you, it does feel like we ALL accomplished this tab. 

Nate began this journey in March with the hopes of being done by May. That’s not how it went down. He got recycled in Darby for five weeks, while there met a rat, passed the mountain phase but then he recycled swamps. He will graduate this Friday among his buddies, graduating class 7-13. It will be surreal. Nate will introduce us to the guys he has come to love and admire. I can’t wait!

Good thing we don't have smell-a-vision on this blog. My boy hadn't showered for 10 days, can you imagine?

Good thing we don’t have smell-a-vision on this blog. My boy hadn’t showered for 10 days, can you imagine?

Over 140 days of arduous training is complete and now the stories begin.

Thanks be to God for the good things He has done! My Soldier heeded the word’s on his cap and now we will learn about the cast of char- acters that made his Ranger School time unique, hilarious and irritating as heck. They will never forget this time together. What a feeling that must be.

As for me, I shall never be able to walk by a Soldier in uniform with a Ranger tab and not stop and say something. Especially this Ranger, Colonel Eric Kail. I’ll probably also burst into tears. Oh to put my arms around my boy in a few days, to see that tab on his sleeve, what a moment that will be.

Our hearts are with all the guys and families who have endeavored on this journey. Bless you all! RLTW!

Tomorrow’s a big day – final results of Ranger School

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photo copy 8We are anywhere from 12-24 hours away from hearing the big news about our Ranger School student.

Did he pass?

Did he not pass?

I cannot even bring myself to use the other word for not passing.

I suppose you can feel my heart beating straight through this blog.

Thump-thump thump-thump thump…

Oh, if I hadn’t had that cardiac ablation a few years ago, I think this ticker would really be giving me fits.

We await the hidden message –

$40 ATM withdrawal – my Soldier got his tab

$60 ATM withdrawal – he didn’t

Whether it’s my physical heart or the mama one that the Lord fashioned me with 23 years ago upon learning I was pregnant, I’ll never get used to this waiting stuff. It doesn’t suit me just like these wrinkles in between my forehead and the other daily assaults endured by many a middle aged woman.

Nate’s been through two recycles (Darby and swamps) and this is his last chance to pass. We await him with open arms and gifts either way. Tears of joy or pangs of sadness, oh my, I don’t even know what to expect.

All we know for sure is that his days of

  • getting 2-3 hours of sleep
  • eating MREs in 30 seconds
  • having a core body temp of 104 degrees at least once
  • trudging 800 meters through the Florida swamps
  • then marching 9 kilometers to his patrol base at night
  • followed by 17 more kilometers to somewhere else
  • while carrying 80-100 pounds on his back
  • at two in the morning
  • being away from communication and contact with loved ones
  • for over 140 days

these things will be over by this time next week.

A new life chapter will begin.

As we await this news, I’m clinging to these verses.

Oh how I love this child.

Oh how I love this child.

For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.

I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.

My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.

Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be. (my emphasis) 

How precious to me are your thoughts, God! How vast is the sum of them! – Psalm 139:13-17

$40, $60…thump-thump-thump…RLTW. Either way, we love you Nate. More soon…

Ranger School student – do not grow weary

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Good thing we don't have smell-a-vision on this blog. My boy hadn't showered for 10 days, can you imagine?

My boy hadn’t showered for 10 days, can you imagine?

As wonderful as it was to hear our son preach on Father’s Day (and oh, it was indeed a blessing!) –

We found ourselves crestfallen later in the day when getting news about our oldest son who is at Ranger School.

Sending and receiving letters is the way loved ones communicate with their Ranger School students. Thankfully our Soldier is a frequent letter writer. A sizeable stack of letters has been accrued during his journey thus far. I’m reminded of the letters Nate began to write when he began his Army journey at West Point.

2013-06-23 15.53.51Ranger School students are also quite adept and clever and some have found another way of communicating very important information.

Through a simple ATM withdrawal, Ranger School students can communicate whether they think they are a “go.”

Last Sunday, Nate used the ATM withdrawal to speak to us.

The general rule of thumb is if a Ranger School student withdraws:

$20 – He probably passed.

$40 – He passed.

$60 – He probably didn’t pass.

When we checked Nate’s account (with his permission) we saw the dreaded withdrawal. $60. Crud muffins. On Father’s Day no less.

At this stage in the game, the guys are at their breaking point. Hungry. Exhausted. Sore. Smelly. Irritable.

Disappointed is not an adequate word to describe it felt learning this news. We all started wearing our grumpy pants. He was almost done with the whole thing. Bummer.

It even hurts to write this because the reality is that many of Nate’s close buddies graduated without him. Although we were (and are) really excited for them, I’d be lying if I didn’t say how sweet it would have been to see my boy get his tab with his buddies.

Yet if we linger on the melancholy, we’d miss God’s blessings. Beyond the tab, we trust in what the Lord is doing.

Though Nate had not received any mail, God arranged a special delivery of the highest order at a time he really needed it.

Cousins who are also brothers in Christ.

Cousins who are also brothers in Christ.

My cousin is in the Army. He’s in Special Forces as Battalion Chaplain. A well-seasoned, determined minister of the Gospel, Mike has the biggest heart for military families you ever did see. Mike is also very respected by his large, extended family of whom I am a part.

Well, guess who happens to be stationed in Florida?  You’ll never guess who preached at Nate’s chapel? Yes! My cousin!

So although I didn’t get to see or talk to my boy, a trusted family member did. Nate is as hungry spiritually as he is physically and what Mike shared with the guys challenged and encouraged them. Mike preached from these verses in the Bible –

but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength;
they shall mount up with wings like eagles;
they shall run and not be weary;
they shall walk and not faint.

Isaiah 40:31

The main point of his message was this. Trust your equipment.

According to Nate, the message resonated deeply with these weary men. Mike shared that he wasn’t just talking about a Soldier’s gear but something else deeply important. My cousin/chaplain encouraged these men to trust in God’s Word. It is fail safe, 100% reliable and true. As a veteran of Desert Storm, Afghanistan and Iraq, Mike has married, buried, carried and tarried many a Soldier and his/her family. He’s got the cred to speak in a way that makes these guys listen. God has mightily used Mike and his family.

At one point during the message, one of the Nate’s buddies turned to him and said, “Dude, is this guy your cousin? He is awesome. He’s the best chaplain in the Army.” I imagine my weary boy sat up a little taller hearing these words.

The Lord’s ways are not our ways. He has a purpose. Even though this time it wasn’t for Nate to get his tab…Nate got a boost in his spirit. We pray he will become a Ranger on July 11th. But even if he doesn’t, the Lord is sovereign, we love him regardless, of course. We trust our equipment too and will not be dismayed.  RLTW.

You’ve got mail – what Bobby Bowden taught my son, the Soldier

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2013-06-09 12.33.01

On June 11, 1997, my oldest OS got the best surprise in the world.

A personalized letter from his hero, Coach Bobby Bowden!

Without telling anyone beforehand, my sister contacted the coach and told him Nate was a huge FSU fan. In the midst of many other tasks, somehow Coach Bowden found the time to write my boy!

Coach Bowden must be a very thoughtful man. He didn’t know that as a baby, Nate had been indoctrinated to supporting FSU through his aunt and his loyalty has never changed. He faithfully watched all the games in full FSU fan regalia and now, as time permits, he still tracks the team and cheers them onto victory.

Not only did Nate learn the chopping tomahawk motion, he taught it to his little brothers. When Aunt Neese would come over, they’d sport football eye patches and make it a big deal. I don’t understand football one lick so she took charge of this important responsibility. They have a forever connection because of football, I love that.

2013-06-09 12.40.40We didn’t know 16 years later, one of Florida State’s biggest fans would be at Ranger School. I was paging through a family scrapbook and stumbled upon it. When I saw the date, I knew I had to write a post.

Letters are important. Have you ever heard from a famous person? That can be so cool!

But when you get a special message from a loved one, wow, that is even better!2013-06-10 20.36.10

Here’s what I’m learning as a military parent.

  • A letter to an average Soldier doing the daily grind is not taken for granted.
  • A letter to a cadet candidate trying to get through Beast in order to become a lowly plebe is a way to help him/her feel like a real person with a first name.
  • A letter to an exhausted, starving and weary Ranger School student can provide the emotional fuel to push through to get that much esteemed Ranger patch.

Coach Bowden won’t ever realize how that letter to a seven-year-old still makes that now 23-year-old guy smile.

The same pertains to regular, everyday folks – don’t underestimate what a real letter FROM YOU can mean to a person.

Nate is in the swamps phase of Ranger School, letters lift him out of the muck and goo, he’s got about two more weeks to go, Lord willing he will have that treasured Ranger tab.

Thank you Coach Bowden for setting the bar high! Thank you Aunt Neese for the sweetest memory! And thank you to each of you who have written my boy during his military career. If you want Nate’s current address, leave me a message and I’ll be happy to provide it.

2013-06-09 12.20.20

Pray-for-Our-Troops

Military mom and artist – check her patriotic series out here!