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.

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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.

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.

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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.

Other blog posts you might want to check out:

Colonel Kail is my friend

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I was so glad I asked Eric about all his decorations and medals. I wasn’t sure if that was appropriate to do but he explained each one and I was duly impressed.

Today I want to celebrate a military man who greatly influences my oldest OS, the Hubs and me.

Eric Kail and his family moved to North Carolina so he could pursue his PhD in organizational psychology at North Carolina State University. I first met his wife Gigi at a roller skating rink watching our kids go around the mindless oval.

At the time, I had no idea how much we would grow to love this couple. They were welcome additions to church and our Sunday School class. The Hubs and I enjoyed getting to know them and considered them funny, real and honest folks. I appreciated Eric’s service to our country but I underestimated his credentials.*

And when Gigi mentioned during lunch at Panera Bread that her dad had been the “Supe” at West Point, I’m pretty sure that didn’t faze me one way or the other. “Ok, so he was a ‘big wig’ at West Point, isn’t this salad delicious?” We just liked the Kail’s plain and simple.

Fast forward a few years and upon successful completion of his studies at NC State, the Kail’s got stationed in Seoul, Korea for two years.

We were sad and honestly didn’t think we would see them again this side of heaven.

But God has an interesting way of bringing people together again and in the fall of 2007, our oldest OS suddenly declared his desire to go to West Point. Although they were in Korea and we were still in North Carolina, our lives began syncing back together. The words “West Point” that I had taken for granted now had great meaning. Why did they have to live so far away when we needed to talk and figure this thing out?

Eric began to call us from Korea. He gave us insight and prepared us for the road ahead. The night he told us the brutal truth about Beast and R-Day, I distinctly remember collapsing on the carpet in our office. Nathan might be able to do West Point but I knew I couldn’t! Eric didn’t mince words about how hard it would be to say goodbye to our son but I also trusted his honesty and the confidence he had in all of us.

Even when Army loses, if you’re with the Kail’s, it’s a good time!

The next thing you know Nate finishes his plebe year and the Kail’s get stationed at West Point! I never saw this coming! We stay with the Kail’s when we go to see our OS and our friendship is rekindled. Army football games, Ring Weekend, Nate has knee surgery in the fall of his firstie year and the Kail’s are to the rescue.

Nate comes to rely on Colonel Kail’s wisdom and advice and does an occasional load of laundry at their house. Their hospitality is unmatched and we always feel at home in their midst.

Most importantly so does Nate, it’s almost like they have a secret bond being Army men that we as civilian parents don’t and that’s perfectly fine.

I can’t tell you how many times my OS would say to me, “I really like Colonel Kail. I’m going to talk to him about something. He’s a good guy.”

Nate getting his butter bars

So when Nate was planning graduation from West Point, the choice was easy on whom he wanted to commission him as an officer. Colonel Kail of course.

But now there was a big problem…cancer.

In March, Eric was diagnosed with stage 4 transitional cell carcinoma.

Stage 4 simply means that the cancer had spread to other parts of his body from the original source.

Although nowhere near his vital organs, Eric started chemotherapy right away. Nate was crestfallen when I told him about Colonel Kail’s illness. I remember telling him the news while he was visiting his girlfriend in El Salvador, I felt Nate needed to know right away. My OS was incredulous and heartbroken, he took it very hard.

In April, the Hubs had a business trip and arranged to stay at the Kail’s and hang out with Nate simultaneously.

Fresh off of surgery, preparing for his chemo treatments, that’s when Nate asked his mentor if he would do him the honor of swearing him in as an officer in the Army.

Without hesitation Eric said yes though we have learned that he has turned others down in the past. We waited and hoped it would be.

Colonel Kail and Nate during the oath ceremony. Um, yes, I was a little choked up. I love seeing the Hubs’ hands on my back offering support. So emotional!

And it was.

On a sultry afternoon just before a torrential rainstorm blew into the Hudson River, right outside the Cadet Chapel, Nate lifted his right hand.

With the American flag in the background, our family, Gigi, Lu and her dad gathered around as Nate repeated the oath as instructed by the highly decorated Colonel Kail.

The person Nate most wanted to perform this ceremony was there.

Yes, I was crying.

Yes, as a result I had a horrible time trying to put Nate’s “butter bars” on his uniform.

Yes, I needed my glasses.

But God had arranged this day before the fullness of time. To see my OS being sworn in by his beloved mentor was a thing of beauty. When I think about how many  pieces had to fall in place for this moment to have arrived, it astonishes me. The Lord had planned every detail and even orchestrated an “off” week for chemo treatments thereby allowing Eric to  have the enough strength to do this. We serve a mighty God indeed.

I underestimated Eric’s credentials! Wow!

I’m not sure Eric has any idea what he means to my son and how much it meant to have him perform the oath ceremony.

That’s why I’m writing this today. He deserves to hear it. So let me declare to all reading this Eric Kail has richly blessed my son!

Let me further state Eric Kail has richly blessed my son not only as a man, but as a Soldier and a brother in Christ!

And if I may, since I have the floor, let me proclaim this to the end of time We consider the Kail’s to be a gift from our Heavenly Father and are humbled to call them lifelong friends! 

Here are a few of Eric’s credentials…not too shabby. And you can read more about Eric’s leadership reflections in the Washington Post by clicking here and here.

*In addition to being my friend, an awesome dad and husband to the smoking hot Gigi, Eric Kail is a Colonel in the United States Army. He has 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. Eric also has a PhD in organizational psychology. His latest assignment was as the course director for military leadership at West Point.

Check out this post for a incredible story about Colonel Kail.

And update as of July 25, 2013: Our West Point grad, Nate wrote this beautiful tribute about Colonel Kail after Eric went to be with the Lord. Reading it will bless your heart.