Five minute Friday – encouragement

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2014-01-03 18.44.52 photo 14Encouragement is doing something because you want to not because it feels like an obligation.

It is going beyond a perfunctory one-word statement on a facebook wall – which I have done also to be fair

Unexpected flowers from my orange hair, freckle face olive shoot and a family friend - fragrant encouragement!

Unexpected flowers from my orange hair, freckle face olive shoot and a family friend – fragrant encouragement!

Those usually produce the opposite of encouragement, quite honestly

But encouragement is a stretch of action and heart to make an effort to say

You matter

I care

I want to help

You are not alone

Many times when I am feeling low, it’s hard to acknowledge I crave help and attention. What if people don’t follow through? What if they said they wanted to help but now suddenly, they make it clear it wasn’t really sincere? 5minutefriday

As I begin week three of recovering from foot surgery, the Lord has used unexpected people to encourage me

A visit from a busy mom after my surgery which then allowed my husband to take our son to see his fiancée in Delaware2014-01-03 19.45.57

A meal prepared by Brazilian friends who wouldn’t let me lift a foot or a finger!

A delicious choc olate/caramel apple beautifully wrapped and other tasty delights delivered with smiles and happiness

Homemade dinners and offers to take me out to run errands

A lunch after Bible study, a ride back home ❤

God has also used certain family members to make my immobile life bearable –

Encouragement gives the heart confidence to carry on

Thank you to all who encourage me on this blog and throughout life. It means so much!

How have others encouraged you this week?

This post was inspired by the sassy gang at Lisa-Jo Baker’s weekly Five Minute Friday!

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A name, an identity, a mom and a son…

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fam303When my oldest olive shoot leapt in my womb, I loved thinking about his potential name. I very much like my first name and realized the great responsibility given a parent to pick just the right one. After all, it’s going to stick with them all his/her life, right?

The Hubs and I kicked around a lot of first names before finding the right one for him.

The one thing I knew for sure was that Nathan would have a distinctive last name.

A last name that was hyphenated.

This idea was not met with thunderous applause. In our extended family, my mother-in-law, (may she rest in peace) said some regrettable things about our decision. That only made the woodworm of pride dig deeper in me. Nothing and no one could thwart my resolve.

So on that treasured spring day, my baby entered the world. We signed the birth certificate, sent out birth announcements and we all settled into family life. Two brothers later, 4/5 of our family are known by our special last name. It rarely presented an issue.2013-07-04 07.36.20

But when Nate decided to go to West Point, he began to mention that people were perplexed about what to call him. His first last name? His second last name? The first year, (plebe year) at West Point, NO ONE calls you anything but your last name! This only compounded the issue. The last day of plebe year, there is even a special ceremony where the other cadets actually acknowledge that you even have a first name if you can imagine!

Throughout his time at West Point, Nate noticed that his name was longer on his uniform than others. Eventually he shortened it unofficially because according to him, even the clever-minded cadets just couldn’t figure it out and he was tired of the confusion.

So it wasn’t a surprise to me the day Nate mentioned he wanted to just have one last name. I gulped but understood when he announced that he was going to use only my husband’s/his dad’s last name from now on. Honestly it made sense and I could appreciate the reasons behind his decision.

2013-05-10 13.33.10My maturity about the whole thing has impressed me. As vehement as I was in insisting that he have both of his parents’ last names, I have remained compassionate and impartial. I completely respect his decision. He is a man of honor, integrity and character. He will be married in November. I cannot hold him down nor do I want to impede his life whatsoever.

But here comes the raw part – I’m going to admit something…a new emotion that has risen to the surface a little bit…

2013-05-10 17.14.52When I learned that my OS would be getting a new birth certificate, one with just one last name, it felt like a rope burn to my heart.

Ok, so now I’m crying while typing. There is NOTHING that will ever change my affection for my olive shoots.  Our connection extends far beyond a dumb hyphen. My boy’s decision wasn’t an offense to me as a mom. Still, when the Hubs called me upon returning from the court-house to facilitate Nate’s name change, wow, I suddenly had a hard time. I was fine with Nate changing his name from 2014 and onward but gosh, going backward in time and doing it??? OUCHY!

Thinking of him having a new birth certificate brought sadness. I harkened back to that day in the hospital when we declared his name.

There are lessons to learn through all this. Besides encouraging them to walk with the Lord, my boys deserve respect and support of their decisions. I can do even if it stings a little. Since he is an officer in the Army, Nate has endured endless background checks, mountains of paperwork, and clearances to make this happen. True to Nate’s personality, he has been diligent. It’s the least I can do even if it stings a little. Furthermore, my sweet boy has spoken with tenderness about wrestling with the decision. Maybe he felt like he was betraying the family and what we have stood for. Nate, if you’re reading this, I know you love me and I understand!

299311_10150412030338018_3766445_nHis name is Nathaniel – it means gift of God and though the last name is changing, I am blessed to always be able to call him my son. I can do even if it stings a little. Perhaps I even will get some monogrammed towels for him after deployment to celebrate his decision!

Warmth – Brazilian style

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photo 5Temperatures plummet all around the country but we experienced a heat wave of sorts. A Brazilian blast of kindness warmed our family these past few weeks as we enjoyed spending time with Chico’s parents. I have loved ones in Qatar, Chicago, El Salvador and Brazil – we’re all over the map!

Since last May, the Lord opened the door for new people to enter our home. Most who entered as friends left as members of our family. Some through actual marriage proposals (Lu and Kelsie) but others through spending extended time in our home – they became W-H’s, an extension of our olive shoot branch.

And it’s interesting, the timing of it all. Disease and deception ushered a person out of our lives. Without a proper goodbye, a thank you, a warm embrace, nothing, nada, zilch, poof, he was gone. I don’t recommend it. So while recovering from the pangs of loss, these people have been a healing balm to our family. We haven’t forgotten this person but we have moved on in order to survive. He hasn’t been replaced but God has opened new chambers of our hearts. I know many people who have experienced a loss can empathize.

On Sunday, we said our goodbyes to Francisco and Leyla. We enjoyed going to church together and I was deeply touched to sit by Chico’s mom and to hear her singing the refrain “Hallelujah” in one of the songs. Tears streamed from both of our eyes as the music played. It’s safe to say that a year ago none of us had any notion how close we would feel to one another. I didn’t really personally know any Brazilian people until September. Now it’s like our family has grown exponentially just by adding one charming borrowed Brazilian olive shoot into our home.

After church, we went to a restaurant. As the meal was ending, Chico’s dad went out to his car to get something. When he returned, he approached the Hubs holding something small in his fingers. He then gently took the corner of the Hub’s jacket and carefully attached a small gold item to the collar. With a few emotional words in Portuguese, he embraced and kissed my husband and that’s when we saw this.

photo 4In some way, it re- minded me of when Nate was pinned as an officer at West Point. Our dear friend Colonel Eric Kail com missioned Nate. We will never forget that moment or that man.

It also reminded me of the kindred moment when Nate was tabbed by his brothers after completing Ranger School those memories flooded back to me.

I’m not sure Francisco understood the significance of his gesture but based on the tears that flowed afterward, perhaps we all did. Francisco’s gift to my husband was an acknowledgement of trust and connection. That pin proudly sits next to the Army pin on my husband’s coat. The cold weather allows him opportunity to display some of our dearest and deepest connections.2013-07-12 12.17.27

The  feeling of being deemed worthy and proven can warm a heart and that little pin of our two flags was a profound symbol between 2013-07-12 11.19.16men. When people enter our lives, they leave an impression. In this case, it was an enduring and deep connection neither family could have expected.

My family phoenix

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34I am proud of us.

This five-piece puzzle that we have called ourselves has shown strength and faith in the face of great sadness and loss. Last year, my father-in-law was a significant member of our family, this year, that all changed.

But instead of falling apart, our family persevered. We nearly curled inward, it would have been understandable. But we all have done the opposite. We chose hope. Not always, not perfectly. Yet we risked rejection and kept our hearts open. I am proud of us.

UnknownAs a junior in college, I attended l’universite de Caen in Normandy, France. Founded in 1432, the university was destroyed in 1944. Most of the town was also decimated, in fact, the home where I lived still had bullet holes in the stone wall from a fire fight during the Invasion.

At the entrance to the school, a sculpture entitled “The Phoenix” welcomed all. Many days I strolled past this statue but never really appreciated its beauty or significance until now.

For some reason I remember that monument and connect it my present day life.35

The morning before Thanksgiving, my family gathered together. An impromptu gluten-free brunch of pupusas (a popular Salvadoran dish) and pão de queijo (a delicious Brazilian cheese bread) filled the kitchen with warmth and flavor.

Around the table, I saw people I never expected to be here. One person, in fact, I didn’t even know existed until about three months ago.

There sat~

– A handsome borrowed Brazilian son

– A Salvadorena future daughter-in-love

– A gluten-free future daughter-in-love

photo 4And beside them, all holding hands sat

a Soldier preparing to be deployed a few days later

– a ministry-minded middle and

– an orange hair, freckle face olive shoot.

We bowed our heads to pray and I tried not to cry. Happy tears filled my eyes.

How did I get so blessed?

Look at this food!

Behold these people!

I scarcely could take it in as the Hubs led us in prayer. The Lord gives and He takes away. There weren’t five of us. There now were EIGHT.

In a way, that breakfast was a symbol of our phoenix, our human sculpture of grace and resilience.

Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia, deception and greed have not defeated us. What Satan intended for evil, the Lord has used for good. Though we do not forget and still grieve, our family has created new connections and love.

Across the miles, continents and cultures, hearts still remain strong.

Five Minute Friday – tree

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photo 12I am less concerned with my sons’ happiness than with their holiness. Yes, I said it, I know it’s not a popular sentiment.

They know I adore them and want them to live contented, satisfied lives but being a righteous man is the most important desire I have for my three olive shoots.

Not a monk-like existence, depriving themselves of some of life’s greatest joys but for them to care less about human applause than pleasing the Lord.

When my oldest OS was about 14 years old, we had a ceremony welcoming him into manhood.

He was prayed over, offered words of wisdom, a godly collection of men who loved and cared about his life. I served snacks and watched from afar. It was sweet helping usher Nate into this stage of life. As a Christian, there are not many ceremonies we have to mark this passage into adulthood. Our family made its own tradition.

Have you ever seen anything more precious in your life? A little brother offers wisdom, "keep up the good work in school." What wonderful memories this evokes.

Have you ever seen anything more precious in your life? A little brother offers wisdom, “keep up the good work in school.” What wonderful memories this evokes.

Scan10053One of the Scriptures we used as a cornerstone was

Jeremiah 17: 7-8

“Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord.
He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream,
and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green,
and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit.”

My prayer is that my boys will experience true happiness by following Jesus. Lord may they experience much fruit on their spiritual tree.

This post is brought to you by Five Minute Friday and the word “tree.” 5minutefriday

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.

Five minute Friday – Truth

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photo 11What is your reaction when you see someone reading the Bible?

Do you feel disgust, embarrassment, judgement or anger?

Do you pity, resent or maybe even hate?

Do you feel joy, peace and love?

Do you feel envy, connection and thankfulness?

I have felt all of these at different times when I have seen someone reading the Bible.

Strange, that I can still recall going to a coffee shop many years ago with my grandma. We were listening to a vocalist. My grandma probably forgot her hearing aid and the sounds were too much for her. I looked around and there, at a nearby table, a group of young people had their Bibles open. They were engaged in a lively conversation.

The feeling in my heart was muddy. In one way, I was repulsed. How could they be sitting over there talking about the Bible in public? Who did they think they were?

But I also felt a measure of jealousy. What did they see in that book that was worthy of conversation? What did they know that I didn’t. I considered myself a Christian but had almost zero Biblical knowledge. I believed in God, that would suffice, right?

This is a place where we seek truth - around the dinner table

This is one of the places where we talk about truth – around the dinner table

Since giving my life to Christ about 15 years ago and by that I mean repenting of my sins and accepting Jesus as my Savior, my quest for Truth is nearly insatiable. I was a strident, abortion rights feminist, angry, confused blasphemer and that’s just for starters.

My idea about truth was to cherry-pick and make my own. Talk about muddy! But don’t think that I suddenly considered myself perfect. Far from it. I still goof up. I do, all the time. But where I find Truth isn’t from the world, it’s from The Word.

photo 10

Here’s what the boys found on the chalk board recently. It opened up great family conversation.

We have a Brazilian exchange student staying with us for the school year. The Lord has opened up many opportunities for conversation between the Hubs, my youngest olive shoot and Chico. Many nights during dinner time, we sit around the table and discuss Truth. The Bible is open and we find daily application to the Truth found within. We talk about real, honest and relevant things and connect it all with the source of all truth.

I’d love to hear what you think about the word truth. I’m also curious to know what you think when you see someone reading the Bible. It’s ok if you have a different opinion than mine, I’ve probably felt something similar along my spiritual path.

5minutefridayThis post is inspired by super cool people who all write about one specific word for just five minutes each Friday! Check it out here.