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…

 

 

 

 

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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.

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 – She

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When I walked down the stairs at the missionary house five years ago

She caught my eye, took my breath away

“Wow, she’s so pretty!” I thought to myself.

All of us at the girls' prison in El Salvador

All of us at the girls’ prison in El Salvador

Then I went to the girls’ prison in town

And she acted as my translator as we spoke about redemption, purity and freedom in Christ

“I love her heart,” I thought to myself as we both openly wept at the beauty of the moment.

Then my oldest son began speaking to her

He, a cadet at West Point

She, a college student in El Salvador

And soon enough, they began to fall in love

Two countries away, a romance and a host of many obstacles

They have persevered

And on Sunday, in this beautiful tropical land

He dressed up in his finest, heart beating like a drum

What a moment!

What a moment!

He reserved a table at Ruth’s Chris in downtown San Salvador

And when the waiter brought out the creme brulee, there on the plate

Even though they spelled it wrong, she understood! What a sweet memory in every way!

Even though they spelled it wrong, she understood! What a sweet memory in every way!

She read a life-changing message!

Even though there was a typo since English is not the first language of this country

995474_10151567058450059_296521023_nShe became more than the pretty girl I first met in a faraway land

She was elevated from just being my son’s bonita, his girlfriend…

She became my future daughter-in-love…

Join us at this writing community and share!

Join us at this writing community and share!

My son’s future wife ❤

She said, “YES!”

I could write more but I was only given five minutes! What do you think about the word “she”?

Big news in our family – something happy for a change

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My boy and his girlfriend

My boy and his girlfriend

Yesterday I used a word I have never used before.

It was a word I prayed I would use one day.

Like, I really did pray to Jesus about using this word.

I remember praying with my son throughout the years

When I tucked him in at night or

During casual conversation in the family room and

Around the kitchen table before dinner

This word has always provoked a sense of wonder and anticipation in our boys.

My boy and his fiancée

On Sunday at a fancy restaurant in San Salvador, El Salvador, my oldest olive shoot, my Soldier, my West Point graduate, my Ranger, my Sugar Boy asked his beloved to marry him.

She said, “yes.”

So yesterday I no longer referred to Lu as Nate’s girlfriend

Around 4pm during a very serious meeting in Raleigh, the Hubs and I spoke about a very happy moment as we were talking about a very sad one

Then these words flew out like a butterfly in the sky,

“my son’s fiancée.”

The air in the room grew lighter for an instant

photo copyAnd I felt a smile in my heart

A fresh and joyful moment, most welcome and healing to my soul

Their love story is such an adventure, your heart will smile as well

That incredible day, the one we have prayed about for so many years has finally arrived

My son has a fiancée, I have a future daughter-in-love!

Remembering a Ranger – a message of wisdom and service – thank you, Colonel Kail, RLTW

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photoIn January, my son sought advice about Ranger School from a man he trusted who had been there, done that way back in 1998. (Massive understatement)*

At the time, Nathan had no idea how treasured this email would become only six months later.

On July 24, 2013, Colonel Eric G. Kail passed from this life into eternity with Jesus after a valiant fight with transitional cell carcinoma. Amidst tears of sadness, Nate, the Hubs and I were reminiscing about Eric’s impact on our lives. During that phone conversation, our son casually mentioned this email and began to read it to us.

With my (now) Ranger’s permission, today I share this email as a sort of eulogium to a great man. Even if you’re not in Ranger School, my hunch is you will appreciate the insightful words written by a man of great honor, Christian faith and wisdom. Eric would get a kick out of knowing he was featured again in my blog! He was always such an encourager.

Here’s the email…

Nate,

Congratulations on all you’ve accomplished so far, and for snagging a Ranger School slot. Thanks for asking, here’s my two cents.

1. Ranger school is not fair, nor are the people who run it. I don’t mean that negatively, but rather just as a fact. I saw far better soldiers than me not make it through the first week due to injury and some were even picked on and singled out until they quit.

2. Try to learn something about yourself everyday and acknowledge the work of your peers. No one likes an overt cheerleader who comes across as trying to get the squad to like them. However, quiet and man-friendly encouragement goes along way.

3. Consistency is key, especially when you are member of squad and not the patrol leader. Spotlighting is only working hard when you are in charge, and it is an ugly thing.

4. Remember the school is designed to get you to your worst point, and then deal with it. So, things like packing list changes and last-minute fragos are by design and not something you should ever let get the better of you.

5. You’ll have moments and days when staying at Ranger School is the last thing you want to do. Two things help. First, always find something (never someone else) to laugh about. Second, you’ll spend your entire army career helping soldiers over come hardship. So, learning how to pull yourself out of despair is a good skill to acquire.

6. Never feel sorry for yourself, although you may want to daily.
Keeping a journal of just a few comments or bullets each day will help you reflect on this when you are back in the real world.933882_621564467863032_1204880649_n

7. Enjoy becoming a dangerous and competent man, but not pridefully. Our society is too quick to put sweater vests and choir robes on Christian men and to domesticate them into mediocrity. We need strong warriors who understand unconditional love and possess the will to manage violence in our defense.

8. Most, if not all of the learning you will accomplish is about yourself and your failures while in Ranger School. You’ll learn some cool stuff, but more than anything you’ll learn the value of never quitting. I had to remain in the elevated push-up position for two hours one evening because some instructor wanted to get an LT to quit. Two hours seemed like an eternity then, but merely a blink of an eye now. Funny thing, I ran into that instructor years later and we had a good conversation on my terms. He was a small, angry man inside and out.

9. On your worst days, remember that your future soldiers and NCOs are counting on you to finish what you completed. Don’t worry if you get injured, that happens to the best of them. But when you show up with your tab, your soldiers and NCOs will know that at least you finish what you start.

10. Soldiers only want to know one thing about you. Will you take care of them or drive them like a rental car. Completing ranger school tells them up front that at least you know what it feels like to be driven like a rental car and are less likely to do it to them.

Hope this helps. I’m very proud of you Nate.

photo copy 3

img_2250* By the way, Colonel Eric Kail was Ranger certified in 1988. He also did some other awesome things like marry a wonderful woman, have two kids and other important things like get a Ph.D. and publish a series on leadership in the Harvard Business Review. Eric served for over 25 years as an Army Field Artillery Officer in both conventional and special operations units. He has several combat deployments, including Operations Desert Shield, Desert Storm, Enduring Freedom, and Iraqi Freedom. Among Eric’s awards include the Bronze Star Medal with “V” Device for Valor. While our family knew Eric as a close personal friend, Eric was most recently the course director for military leadership at West Point.

On behalf of my entire family, Eric, you will be missed but we mourn not as those without hope (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18). See you soon, Colonel Kail.

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