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…

 

 

 

 

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.

Aaron is ENGAGED!!!

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photoThe time to drop your iPhone into the toilet isn’t hours before your middle olive shoot proposes.

Yes, you have read that sentence correctly.

My iPhone took a swim in the toilet on Saturday morning…

And my sweet boy Aaron is now engaged.

As of today,

I have an iPhone that needs repair – waa

BUT much more importantly

In the span of just SIX weeks

I have gained not ONE but TWO future daughters-in-love.

I have been the mother of three awesome olive shoots for many years

And a Brazilian exchange student for about two months

Truly the Lord has taken our family on a fascinating and creative journey. Love and loss, Alzheimer’s and abandonment, family and friendships, oh my goodness. Central America, South America, Chicago, South Carolina, our hearts have been all over the map. We have had a jam-packed season of suffering and joy, our spirits are dizzy and blessed. I scarce can take it in but I’ll try.

Here’s how the proposal unfolded.

After spending the day together in Chicago strolling the Lincoln Square area, Aaron took Kelsie to PF Changs for dinner.

Then they went for a stroll to the Trump Tower. The night was starlit, a slight chill in the air.

Aaron reminded Kels that this was the place where he had asked for their first kiss and professed his love for her.

And then Aaron, all fancy wearing a tie and looking oh so handsome,

My cherished bairn, he took Kelsie’s hand and got on one knee.

With all the confidence and happiness he has probably ever felt, with a host of truly thousands of prayers spoken over this boy throughout his lifetime just in anticipation of this one moment, my treasured Aaron reached into his pocket. Presenting his beloved her great aunt’s wedding ring, a family heirloom, he inquired,

“Kelsie, will you marry me?”photo 4

With nary a moment of hesitation, this dear young woman answered, “YES!!!”

It was a surreal moment for the both of them.

Apparently so surreal that my ministry-minded olive shoot carefully placed the ring on the WRONG HAND! Oops!

But don’t you just love it when things don’t go perfectly?

That’s how life happens, it’s not flawless. I want my children to live real lives and be authentic people. Those little blips and bloopers are what make memories stick. Kind of like what happened when Nate proposed to Lu. Click here for that story. The Hubs and I have so many moments about our own engagement, I’ll save those for another day. I pray that my children accumulate many stories throughout their lifetimes.

photo 5So yes, my phone fell into the toilet yesterday.

It was an unused toilet, for the record and I wasn’t on the phone when it happened. It just fell out of my back pocket. I promise!

But I am thankful nonetheless.

God has answered my prayers. He has been good. So many nights, so many dinner table conversations and prayers about the women my boys would someday marry. And now two of them know who she is.

Nate and Lu –

Aaron and Kelsie –

praise Jesus for my two future daughters-in-law 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!