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…

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Why God gave me these kids

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One of the sweetest pictures in my collection.

One of the sweetest pictures in my collection.

“Oh, God, why did you give me these children???”

I have said these words

More than once

There have been times when I have exclaimed this in a most screaming doleful and lamenting tone.

“OH GOD, WHY did you give me THESE children???

Those moments when mothering is troubling and my spirit is weary. When Nate screamed bloody murder in the bathtub for no reason at all or when Aaron threw handfuls of dirt on the carpet after repeatedly telling him to leave the dirt in the planter. When Ike flew into an angry tirade and it felt like body parts were exploding on the walls. And those are just a few of the stories I could share.

I suppose my OS have their own share of meltdown moments from me as well but we’re not going to talk about that. They can get their own blog and share those stories one day!

But in much larger measure, I have inquired of the Lord,family5

oh God, why did you give ME these children?”

And I can’t say I have totally figured this out but I do see a theme and hear an answer when I enter the holy places of the Lord.

“They brought you closer to Me.” This is the refrain which resonates the most true.

With each successive olive shoot, my need for Jesus became clear. Here’s what I mean.

Nate

Nate

Nate taught me celebration. He was the toe-headed boy who began walking at eight months and wrote the words “hallelujah” in a prayer journal in elementary school. He is my adventurous, always-looking-for-a-challenge child currently plodding away at Ranger School.

Aaron danger boyMy middle Aaron has been used by the Lord to instruct me on the value of submission. As a toddler, it was apparent we were well on our way to raising an absolutely adorable jerk. We had to implement structure and discipline into our home. When he bit into the face of the daycare director’s granddaughter like she was a hamburger at Bull City Burger, we knew something had to give.

wh2202And Ike, oh, my soul, my adorable, orange hair, freckle face OS, he is God’s lesson in absolute dependence on the Lord. The boy who nursed just on one side, pushed his food away as a toddler as if he had been served a bowl of salty mush, Ike has rocked my world in ways I never dreamed. He is ornery and tender-hearted, stubborn as a zit on a middle-age woman and contrite in spirit to the point where it brings me to tears.

Without each of my children, I’m not sure I would know Jesus. Thankfully I’ll never know! God placed each one of my olive shoots in my life to give me life eternally! The Hubs and I couldn’t do this family thing on our own with any measure of success without Him.ikebball2

What about you? Have you ever wondered the same thing about your children? Why did God give you your babies? I’d love to hear!

Love and letters, part one

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photo copy 5The response to writing my Soldier has been incredible.

Most of us do not understand how wonderful it is for a military person to hear from loved ones and friends.

The longer I am a mama of a Soldier, the more it sinks in.

For my son, he has loved every single message.

Here’s why. Imagine marching 800m through the swamps, then doing a 9k patrol base at night followed by a 17k back. Your letters matter to these weary men.

Picture getting 30 seconds to inhale an MRE (meals ready to eat) somewhere in the mountains but then getting a funny card from a friend delivered to you sometime during training. It can kind of make you feel like a person for a second. If there’s a stick of gum inside, even better!

So today I want to highlight some of the incredible letters and cards Nate has been receiving, I’m amazed at everyone’s thoughtfulness. We’re not done yet, so please keep writing, I feel blessed because of you.

Dog owners – Can you believe that Nate is getting a letter from a couple who adopted our emotionally disturbed greyhound, Toughie? Years ago, we were the owners of a retired racing greyhound. Poor Toughie was an emotional basket case and we had to find him another home. Before going over the Rainbow Bridge, Toughie found some infinitely patient souls to care for him. Now they are sending Nate a letter! Oh how he will chuckle seeing the name Toughie again!

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Oh dear nephew, your cousin will cherish this picture forever! He will love all the detail and action! I love you and so does Nate! RLTW!

Cousins – This picture is from Nate’s seven-year old cousin, Jon. The more I look at this picture, the more I love it. Tanks, swamps, fish, words of encouragement, this drawing also has plenty of action and Nate is smiling through the whole thing. I’m not so sure about that in real life but I do know this. Nate will grin ear to ear because of this letter. According to Jon, Nate is the #1 23-year-old and I have to agree!

Katie and the kids she's working with this summer.

Katie and the kids she’s working with this summer.

Classmates and cool kids – One of Nate’s high school classmates is working with K-5th kids this summer.

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Daniel, this is a beautifully written letter. You are a really nice guy!

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974857_10201224092465611_1526572933_n Stacey, this letter is a work of art. Nate will love it!

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Thank you Alajah for thinking of my Soldier.

Since Nate is a strong example of perseverance, obedience, courage and integrity, determination, Katie had an idea.

Last week she talked to her kids about unconditional love. Then the kids sent him some snail mail. Just look at the adorable sentiments expressed by these precious children!

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So bright and colorful! Much prettier than looking at the swamps! Thanks y’all!

Thanks to Katie and her efforts, Nate will receive 30 Scripture filled letters from these boys and girls. This will mean the world to him!

Brothers – Equally delightful are the cards my orange hair, freckle face OS sends his brother.

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It takes a unique mind to come up with this character. What a creative little brother!

Spermy the Whale is the featured character Ike created during his middle school years.

Spermy now makes regular appearances on correspondence with Nate.

In particular, Nate has specifically mentioned how much he enjoys getting these bizarre greetings.

Ike really makes some interesting cards...

Ike really makes some interesting cards…I know he enjoys sending them to his bro.

It would seem that Spermy the Whale is transforming from a gangsta with grillz and a gold chain to entering the business world sporting a briefcase and a professional tie. The grillz are now a thing of the past. Um, ok!

My joy multiples as a mom. On behalf of all the families we represent who have a son, fiance, husband, boyfriend or brother in Ranger School, know it is a highlight for us to know others care.

From Korea to California, Texas to Michigan, El Salvador to New York and all points in between, thank you, bless you. We should never undervalue the significance of sending support to our military servicemen and women.

Questions: If you have a special person in the military, how have letters and cards helped your loved one?  What are creative ways you offer support to others! Let’s share ideas!

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.

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

Inside my Soldier’s cap

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My Soldier's cap

My Soldier’s cap

While in the process of doing laundry during Nate’s eight-hour pass from Ranger School, my Soldier’s filthy patrol cap appeared among the pile.

“How can a person’s head get so gross?” I wondered this in the confines of the hotel laundry room. Ew.

But that Army cap became a thing of beauty when I looked beyond the grime.

Oh how I love this child.

Oh how I love this child.

Unbeknownst to me, prior to starting Ranger School, my Soldier had written in black Sharpie pen these words found in Philippians 4:12-13.

“I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. 

I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation,     whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 

I can do everything through him who gives me strength.”

As the Hubs and I were scrambling around to help him on his eight-hour pass from Ranger School, it was clear that Nathan wanted us to see those Bible verses on his combat cap.

When our tired boy spoke about these words that afternoon, it was like he was speaking of a great, uncovered treasure. Although Nate has read Philippians 4:12-13 many times before, he understood them now in a more profound way. His current circumstances made the Scripture come alive. It’s so powerful when the Lord speaks to us so individually, don’t you think?

IMG_0037I guess when you only gobble down two MREs a day, get maybe two hours of sleep a night and are pushed to your absolute physical and emotional max, you really do know what it is like to be in need and to have plenty. I can’t even imagine.

Though I try, it’s beyond my grasp, my heart will only allow me so much understanding or it would crumble.

Judging from the letters Nate has sent, in many ways, our Soldier has learned contentment and joy really are found in Christ alone. The strength he summons forth is the result of training, determination and ultimately Jesus. We do what we can on the home-front but Nate realizes that the Lord is his supply. We come up alongside him best we can but the truth found on that combat cap is what really gets him through the rough patches.

Oddly enough, Nate didn’t intentionally write those verses on his hat with the foreknowledge of their relevance. It was only when the chaplain came around to visit the guys during the mountain phase of Ranger School, that Nate put the pieces together and saw how cool it was that he had chosen THOSE verses for such a time as this! He’ll never be able to read Philippians 4:12-13 the same again. Neither shall I.

So today on Memorial Day, I’m deeply humbled, proud beyond words to be the mama of a Soldier. I’m also a grateful cousin, daughter-in-law, sister, grand-daughter and friend of military service people.

Thank you isn’t enough gratitude for all those who have served.

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Check out this beautiful patriotic artwork by a military mom!

Excerpts from Ranger School – sermons, mountains, marches

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Mount Yonah in Georgia

Mount Yonah in Georgia

Apparently Miley Cyrus’ house can be seen on top one of the mountains. but that’s not the reason my Soldier is at Mount Yonah. Far from it but I know Nate chuckled upon hearing this celebrity factoid in the middle of Ranger School.

Fortunately our oldest olive shoot is a frequent writer. I think he writes as much for himself as for us since he wants to chronicle this epic event. One day he’s going to look upon this moment with a sense of wonder. These letters are proof that yes, he did it! 

I have especially marveled at his recent letters. The physicality of the task and the way the Lord is speaking to him, I am truly in awe.

Here are some excerpts that you might enjoy.

“Mount Yonah, brutal ruck up, it’s a timed pass-fail event with 70 pounds on our back during the ruck. It started off pretty well but towards the end it went basically straight up the mountain.

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By the time I got to the top, I was spent physically and mentally.

Some of those grueling ruck marches can really get to your head. Rather than think about the pain, I just think to myself, “Don’t settle.”

Later in the day we practiced using ropes to haul things like our ruck sacks or a casualty up and down the mountain. The litter we used for the “casualty” ended up weighing about 200 pounds and we just grabbed ropes and put on our 70 pound rucks and dragged them up the mountain. It was miserable. After that we started using pulley systems to drag our stuff and that worked better. The mountain was so steep and slippery I ate it a bunch of times.946456_10200144877568210_1352709177_n

We’ll be on some decent sized hills but we’re not hiking straight up mountains on our missions.

Looking better, smelling nicer, feeling like they were ready to do this. Rangers lead the way! Let's do this!

I’m positive the guys don’t look or smell this good any more! Pray for them, please!

…speaking of food. I’m starving. The have been feeding us three meals a day but I am still starving by the time chow comes around, I start a chow chant. We say, “Chow, chow, chow, chow, chow, chow everybody!” just like that Lil Jon song “Shots.” You gotta have fun somehow so we just cut up and act immature during our down time at least. We put our game face on come mission time.”

15 may 2013

Yesterday the chaplain came and gave an amazing sermon.

He read from Philippians 3:3-15 and talked about running the race for Christ. He told this story about a 10 mile race his ex-Gf asked him to run with her in high school.

It was at 6,000 feet in Colorado and he trained for months in advance so he could impress her.

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The inside of Nate’s hat. I’m going to write about this soon.

When the time came for the race he ditched his girl- friend to hang out with his buddies for the week- end.

He said he doesn’t even re- member what he did that weekend but he did re- member getting a letter in the mail that said “Congrats on finishing the race. Here’s a picture of your photo finish” and it had a picture of someone else crossing the finish line with his bib number on.

He said from that day he committed to never letting anyone else finish a race he was called to run, whether it was being a father, husband, pastor or finishing Ranger School.

I was very encouraged by the message.

Love, Nate

So now you can understand why I cherish these letters from my son. He brings the experience home for the rest of us on the sidelines.

Please pray for all the guys in Ranger School to not settle and to finish strong! And while you’re at it, lift this very special Ranger up to the Lord today. Colonel Kail is a dear friend of ours undergoing a procedure today for a very serious cancer. One of the best guys we’ll ever know and a great mentor to our Soldier.

RLTW!