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.

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:

From a West Point grad – written with love and in honor of Colonel Eric Kail

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I met COL Kail while I was just in middle school at Apex Baptist. At that time I had no desire to join the military, wear a uniform or take orders. I just wanted to be a normal guy with freedom and a regular college experience.

You know that saying that says the easiest way to make God laugh is to tell him your plans?

Well I guess God was laughing when I told Him that because I eventually ended up becoming a cadet at West Point. In a strange set of circumstances, the Kail’s had been sent to Korea last moment only to come back to West Point during my time as a cadet.

162938_10150100327385379_7643059_nAt that time I knew he was a good man, but I didn’t know him. As a cadet I went over to the Kail’s house for a little R&R and was able to get to know the family better. What I found was that weren’t just nice, fun people.

They were (and still are) amazing people.

COL Kail especially impressed me because I saw how he interacted with others professionally around campus. I still remember talking about our leadership class with other cadets and they said, “My instructor’s amazing-COL Kail is the man!”

540225_10151141079026038_1658347826_nThey didn’t just think he was cool however.

It was evident that they had a deep respect for him.

One of my friends was amazed that COL Kail already knew the names of his students before they came in. He had memorized them before they ever stepped into the door. That kind of attention paired with his confidence, charisma and humility made cadets (myself included) opened us up to share about ourselves and to learn from his experience and example.

Although COL Kail never formally mentored me, I count him as one of my mentors. His example has inspired me to be a better Army officer, and more importantly a better man and follower of Jesus. Ever since we all found out COL Kail had cancer it always seemed like he and Mrs. Kail were the ones comforting everyone else.

IMG_3623I have been inspired by their abiding trust in the Lord and their belief that God works everything, even things like cancer out for His good and His glory.

That kind of example has been powerful for me to see and I am not the only one.

As I continue my Army career I pray that I may love my future soldiers like I could tell COL Kail loved his.

I pray that I may have faith like him and I pray that I may be a mighty rock for my family one day as he has been for his own family.

I am proud that COL Kail is my friend. And no matter what happens in my own life, I hope that I may be able to set an example as COL Kail has for his family and for everyone around him.To the Kail family, may God bless you and give you peace. You are an inspiration to us all.

John 16:33 “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

Respectfully yours,

Nathan Winter-Hartley
USMA ’12

Seeing Nate for the first time after completing Ranger School

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No sooner had we arrived at our hotel near Fort Benning, when Nate called to check on our travel schedule. We had just put our bags in the room and the Hubs and I begged and pleaded to see him immediately!

2013-07-10 15.57.58

After all we had been through – the driving, the praying, the waiting, the stress, the letters, the gum, the recycling, followed by the driving, the praying, the feeding, the laundry, the eight-hour pass, the stress, the care package, the recycling (twice), etc., we deserved to see this guy, don’t you agree?

Twenty minutes later, we were hugging our Soldier. Considering everything he had been through during Ranger School, our boy looked great. We learned later that the men are well fed and hydrated before we get to see them. My mama’s heart quaked at the thought of seeing him emaciated and zombie-like. Instead, we were able to enjoy conversation and see that his spirit was still very much intact after the Ranger experience. His waist looked smaller but he didn’t have a sunken chest or hollow eyes which was something I really dreaded.

Perhaps the only glimpse I had of him not being in complete reality was when I asked him to take this picture. Had my Soldier been his usual self, he might not have stood in front of the car and posed for a few shots with this sign in the background.2013-07-11 16.20.58

Yes it’s super corny and if the tables were turned, it would have probably annoyed me when I was his age but Nate indulged my parental pride.

Careful to not push it too much, I did, however ask permission before I told our server at the restaurant that he was dealing with a Ranger. When Nate said, “NO!” I refrained and just prayed for an opportunity to casually mention the fact.

Turns out, I didn’t have to force it because soon enough, we learned that our server was a former Ranger who had been injured while serving his country. There are many broad-shouldered military types in the Fort Benning/Columbus, Georgia area.

Nate’s brothers and a family friend were on their way to celebrate this milestone. In my next post, I’ll share some reflections on that special time.

RLTW!

Btw, if you want to read an actual Ranger’s account about the experience, click here!

$40 or $60? We have our answer and it’s good

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We got the news!

$40 ATM withdrawal!2013-07-07 14.48.02

It is a proud and significant moment in our Soldier’s life. He did all the work, we have merely been behind the scenes cheering him on but I’m telling you, it does feel like we ALL accomplished this tab. 

Nate began this journey in March with the hopes of being done by May. That’s not how it went down. He got recycled in Darby for five weeks, while there met a rat, passed the mountain phase but then he recycled swamps. He will graduate this Friday among his buddies, graduating class 7-13. It will be surreal. Nate will introduce us to the guys he has come to love and admire. I can’t wait!

Good thing we don't have smell-a-vision on this blog. My boy hadn't showered for 10 days, can you imagine?

Good thing we don’t have smell-a-vision on this blog. My boy hadn’t showered for 10 days, can you imagine?

Over 140 days of arduous training is complete and now the stories begin.

Thanks be to God for the good things He has done! My Soldier heeded the word’s on his cap and now we will learn about the cast of char- acters that made his Ranger School time unique, hilarious and irritating as heck. They will never forget this time together. What a feeling that must be.

As for me, I shall never be able to walk by a Soldier in uniform with a Ranger tab and not stop and say something. Especially this Ranger, Colonel Eric Kail. I’ll probably also burst into tears. Oh to put my arms around my boy in a few days, to see that tab on his sleeve, what a moment that will be.

Our hearts are with all the guys and families who have endeavored on this journey. Bless you all! RLTW!

Colonel Kail is my friend, part two

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Eric and his family.

Eric and his family.

Lord willing, Colonel Kail will have a retirement ceremony on 31 May at West Point, then the packers will come three days later.

With the diagnosis of stage 4 transitional cell carcinoma, life began to drastically change for the Kail’s. The one thing that hasn’t wavered but remained steadfast is Eric’s optimism and faith.

Eric is an awesome dad and husband. He’s a Colonel in the United States Army and has also 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.

Impressed? You should be!

Here’s where you come in. Would you be so kind as to pray for this man? Eric has a few medical procedures to complete prior to heading for Texas. A few new spots on the spine and sacrum causes weakness in his right leg and severe pain and stiffness in both legs.

Though he moves around like a 90-year-old man, Eric retains his wit and wisdom.

In return for your prayers, with Eric’s permission, I am sharing a recent experience he had at the airport.

Here’s the remarkable thing that happened to him at the airport.

I’m very prone to take matters into my own hands and to gut things out, get the mission done without complaining. I was beginning to feel like my ability to do certain things was dropping off and a book I was reading allowed me to spend time covering God’s instructions to Elijah.

Specifically, delivering bad news to Ahab then going to live in a cave during a drought.

God told Elijah that he would have birds bring him food; not the kind of delivery we think about for food these days. Now, I’m not by any means comparing myself to Elijah, but the lesson was clear.

God will provide every internal and external resource needed to do what He calls us to do.

Well, the day after I read this story I met a complete stranger in a crowded airport lounge.

He was an Indian man who is a missionary living in the U.S. and still tied to missions work in India aimed at reaching their remote tribal populations.

In fact, his son had died in his 20s while working as a missionary in a remote tribal village.

We began discussing what we did and he asked about what God has called me to do through my battle with cancer.

I shared with him that unless my health took a positive swing, that I may have to curtail my speaking engagements and such.

Then he asked me if I knew much about Elijah.

I laughed and shared with him about what I had read the day before.

As my son would say, "Colonel Kail is the man!"

As my son would say, “Colonel Kail is the man!”

So, we stopped what we were doing and he prayed for me right there in the middle of a very crowded airport lounge.

He prayed specifically that God would make clear his provisions for me and my family as we set out to do His work.

No way it was an accident that this man and I spent an hour together in a crowded public spot.

It gets better.

The next day, my devotional was from 1 Kings, specifically Elijah’s meeting the widow who had just enough flour and oil to make one last meal for her and her son before they died.

Elijah instructed her to make some bread for him too, and that God would provide for her until the drought was over. She did and her flour and oil never ran out.

However, her son did die while Elijah was staying as guest in her home. She asked if this was a curse from God. Elijah took the boy up to his bed, laid on top of him, and prayed three times for God to restore the boy’s spirit to his body. God did just that.

So, I get the message pretty clearly.

Our natural default is to look for our own strength and resources to do even what God has called us to do, when He will supply all we need.

This is hard to do when coordinating things like a final move, buying a home, arranging travel, conducting a retirement ceremony, and oh yes, battling cancer.

Just like meeting Eric and Gigi at Sunday School many years ago in Apex, North Carolina, God arranged for Eric and this man to bond in a crowded airport lounge. What were the chances of that? I love seeing God move in his people.

Let’s move spiritual mountains for Colonel Kail. Share this with others too.

Eric and Gigi

Eric and Gigi

Please pray specifically for the following:

– That scheduling for moving would fall into place
– That the nerve pain and limited mobility would not get any worse between now and beginning treatment
– That the MRI of his brain would show success of the procedure and no other tumors
– That there wouldn’t be any flare ups while in transit from NY to TX
– That he can physically able to do his retirement ceremony on 31 May

In addition, he has promised to commission FIVE cadets at West Point next weekend. He swore our son in last year and it was such a meaningful honor.

Let us pray without ceasing for this man who so freely gives to others. Bless you, Colonel Kail!

Here is the background story if you missed it.