Monday, January 30, 2012

"The Star-Spangled Banner"

I'm incredibly nostalgic and overly patriotic with my husband gone.
Hence the military blogs.
I always tear up when I hear the "Star-Spangled Banner", but when he's deployed, I actually let the tears fall.
My kids get so embarrassed. Come on, I have an excuse.
Sitting at the Denver rodeo last week was no different.
The flag flies, the song plays, and I cry. Every time.
My husband would be proud that I could be moved by such a song.
I've come a long way since our engagement.

I was only 19 when we got engaged.
"A mature 19" I used to think.
Still only 19.
Hadn't lived much.
Hadn't struggled much.
Hadn't wanted for much.
Hadn't sacrificed much.
How mature can you be at 19 with those credentials?

I giggled with a friend as we walked around the concourse of the University of Colorado basketball arena. Cutey fiance' strolled beside me. Just days after our engagement, this was my night to proudly show him off to my friends. They thought I was crazy for saying "yes" to an engagement. I was determined to prove them wrong. As I expected, he was performing quite well. He laughed at the appropriate times, charmed them with his smile, and talked in that endearing Georgia accent.
I had seriously lucked out finding this guy.
We needed to get married before he met the real me. Good thing our wedding was only a couple months away.

The rise and fall of the boisterous crowd inside the arena had grown quiet.
I didn't notice. I kept giggling.
I was too caught up in the thrill of the moment---the grand introduction of my husband-to-be.
A full minute passed before I realized that my handsome fiance' was no longer walking beside me.
Where did he go?
My friend stopped and collectively our eyes searched to and fro.
It was then that I looked back.

Surely not.
I saw a man, standing tall and confident, in one of the doorways that faced into the arena.
I recognized his military stance.
Faintly, I could hear the "Star-Spangled Banner" in the background.
Oh no. Not one of "those guys."
My friend raised her eyebrows at me and I gradually slinked my way back to his side.
This time I was sort of embarrassed to be beside him.
Not that I wasn't raised patriotic. My dad had served in the Air Force when I was a little girl and I loved my country, but did my patriotism really need to be tested here?
This was CU...not the military academy.
Did he really need to stand so tall?
Come on, Dude. Are you softly singing too?
My friends are watching.

I reached for his hand. No response.
O'er the ramparts we watched were so gallantly streaming.
He did have a nice gentle voice.
What did those words even mean though? What's a rampart?
I really had no idea at the time.
I tried to catch his eye for a grin as the ..rockets red glare.
He stared straight ahead---not once did he look in my direction.
I felt like a child caught with her hand in the cookie jar.

I sheepishly stood beside him. I kind of wanted to hide.
Not because of my disrespect for the song.
Mostly because he was so proudly American.
This was not turning out the way I had planned.
My friend had moved on.
My fiance' was paralyzed by the national anthem.
What's a girl to do?

The song ended and I slowly looked up--tried to bat my eyelashes a little.
It didn't work.
For the first time ever, I saw a look of disappointment in his eyes.
I'd never seen him so serious.
I waited for him to speak.
Calmly, quietly, sternly, he said, "That song might not mean anything to you.
It means something to me. You need to think about what you're getting into by marrying me."
I wonder if he meant that HE needed to think about what he was
getting into by marrying me.
Maybe he doubted I was up to the task of being a military wife.
Maybe he was right.

We met back up with a couple friends and I noticed a cool reserve had settled over him.
He didn't care if they thought he was weird.
He thought they were disrespectful by not stopping.
Mutual disappointment.
We still got married.

Through the years, I learned to stand still during the "Star-Spangled Banner."
I even researched the event behind the writing of the song.
The defense of Ft.McHenry told through the lyrics of America's national anthem.
The bombs bursting in air. Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there.
How awesome is the thought of bombs lighting up the sky--all night long--giving hope to all watching that our flag was still standing.
America had not been defeated.
You gotta be slightly moved when you understand the words.
Eventually, I even got over my embarrassment of singing and learned to at least mouth the words when the anthem played.
Honestly, for years I still thought the veterans that sang the song so loudly during sporting events were a little goofy.
Why must they sing so loud and proud? Don't they know we're watching?
I now realize that they don't care what I think...they don't care if I'm watching.
They've paid a price to sing that song as loudly and proudly and off-key as they want.
Surely I can let them sing without casting judgement.

Six years after our marriage, three small children (not my own) would give me a lesson in the national anthem that still moves me to tears.
What began with my husband's slight reprimand in the CU arena would be solidified by a big sister and her two little brothers on a playground in Tucson.

At the end of every day...on every military base...the American flag is lowered as the national anthem plays loud enough for all to hear.
If you are outside on base when it starts, you are to stop and respectfully stand still.
If you are driving on base, you are to stop your car at the very least. Some people even get out of their car to stand as the "Star-Spangled Banner" plays.

Late one afternoon, I sat in the sand watching my two little boys climb on a playground on Davis Monthan AFB. The national anthem started to play and I groaned that I hadn't paid attention to the time. My two rowdy little guys did not stand still very well. I usually spent the whole anthem trying to squeeze their bodies next to mine so they didn't squirm too much and disturb others.
I half-heartedly tried to round them up.
Only a girl and her two little brothers were playing on the playground with us.
No one else was around.
Who would know if I just let my guys play during the national anthem?
I was certain this girl and her brothers wouldn't care.
They probably wouldn't even notice.

Out of the corner of my eye, I caught sight of the big sister---eight years of age at the oldest---quickly gathering her two little brothers.
They were probably the same age as my boys.
While my kiddos were running from me, her brothers had heard the first chords of the national anthem and they were already running toward her.
I watched as she stood them in a line beside her and helped them place their tiny hands over their heart.
Eight, four, and two...side by side these siblings parents guiding this effort...proudly singing their national anthem.
Humbled, I tried harder to get my boys to stand still.
My littlest threw himself face down in the sand at my efforts.
At least he was finally quiet...the sand in his mouth stifled his cries.
Those three kids stood confidently until the final notes sounded.
Joyfully, they ran off unaware that they had just taught a lesson to a young mom that had witnessed their touching display of patriotism

Later, I saw the mom and dad of this trio walking their kids to a car.
A beat-up mini-van.
The dad wore the uniform of a young enlisted man.
Probably making barely enough to even feed his family of five.
That humbled me further. These kids were not living a privileged life in the military. Their daddy wasn't a high-ranking officer.
Their daddy was simply an airman.
An airman that had trained his children to stand proud at the playing of the national anthem. The Air Force wasn't blessing these kids monetarily, but it seemed to me these kids were being taught rich lessons that money can't buy.

I remember watching the family as they drove away and thinking back to that day in the CU basketball arena. The day I kept walking when the national anthem played. At the park that day, I remember being thankful that while the military was never going to financially spoil us, my kids were bound for a life that would offer them far bigger lessons.

The land of the free
And the home of the brave.

I have a shirt that says,
Land of the free
Because of the brave.

Let those veterans sing as loudly as they want...
Teach your kids the words to the "Star-Spangled Banner"...
And definitely STOP WALKING when the anthem begins to play...
I wonder how close that one action came to postponing my wedding...
Maybe I don't want to know...

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Brick by Brick

"A wise woman builds up her home, but a foolish woman with her own hands tears hers down." Proverbs 14:1

Some days--brick by brick--I tear down my house.
I'm capable of such poison. Guilty of wearing down the souls of the little people that God has placed in my home to raise up.
I really never understood why some animals eat their young.
Today, my children might argue, had I been an animal...they would have been in danger...

All day...contant questions, complaints, fighting.
Must they have a comment on everything?
Must I comment on everything?
Just obey...
Just receive the answers I give you...
Just hold your tongue...

Or maybe they were obeying...maybe I was just looking for faults...
Maybe they did receive the answers I gave them...maybe I just wanted to pounce...
Possibly they did hold their might have been mine that ran wild...

I'm sure my attitude couldn't be helped...
Maybe if they didn't ask so many silly questions...
Or make so many messes...
Or need to eat so often...
Or argue...
Or maybe I started the arguments...
Nevermind. It doesn't matter.
Doesn't someone need to call out their faults?
I'm sure I was driven to impatience by the little sinners in my home.
If they wouldn't pick on each other so much...
If they would stop attacking each another's mistakes...
If they would just show a little more grace...

Brick by brick I tear down my house...

Had there been a "fly" on my wall today, there would have been the question raised, "Who's in charge here? Who's leading this family?"

There's a classic line from one of my favorite movies Remember the Titans.
Two of the football players, who despise each other, are being forced to have a discussion. One says to the other,

"Man, that's the worst attitude I've ever heard."

The other player shakes his head and replies, "Attitude reflects leadership, Captain."

Attitude reflects leadership, Captain.

That line sort of haunts me when my children aren't being gracious.
Are they pouncing on each other's weaknesses because I've been pointing them out all day?
Are they glaring at each other because I've demonstrated the proper way to narrow one's eyes?
Are they judging each other because I haven't show them grace?
Maybe. Probably. And Yes.

I really hate when I see my own sin reflected back at me through my children.
Their attitude reflecting my leadership.

Sometimes I wonder if in the middle of disciplining them for an attitude, an argument, a quick temper, unkind words--I wonder if they are thinking---Who disciplines you, Mom?
Who disciplines you?

The attitudes and sin in my children are NOT ALWAYS my fault.
I can't take the blame.
Our Heavenly Father was PERFECT and look how His kids responded.
They are sinners all by themselves. They don't need me to teach them how to do wrong.
But some days, the very poison that I sense from them began with me.
Some days, an underlying tension can be credited to my own lack of obedience.
Their attitude reflecting my lack of lack of lack of grace...

I seem to flip-flop between the foolish woman and wise woman. (Good thing I'm not running for president.) I pray that I'm the wise woman more often than the foolish woman.
Building up her home instead of tearing hers down.
Uplifting her children in the Lord instead of pointing out their faults.
Demonstrating wisdom as opposed to modeling hypocrisy.
I want my children to someday "Arise and call me blessed."
I want them to have memories of a mom exuding grace, pouring out love, and speaking wisdom.
I want them to remember their mom repenting to them and to the Lord when her attitude is anything but that of a Godly woman.

If God can part the Red Sea...if He can raise the dead...if He can wipe away our sins...
Do you think it's too much to ask Him to erase their little memories of today?
Or to somehow let the wise things that have been done in this home reign supreme over the foolish?
I think I've got some bricks to put back up tomorrow...

Friday, January 13, 2012

What about my sons?

The cool thing about being in the military these days is that most Americans truly respect and appreciate those in uniform. Rarely can my husband go anywhere in his flight suit without someone thanking him for his service. He's made many a friend in the gas station as veterans love talking about their own time in uniform. He loves talking with previous military because their experience and their sacrifice is so unique to the time period they served.

Being a military spouse, I don't get the affection my husband receives from the public, but I certainly do get some interesting questions and statements.

Here's the question that hits me differently this time around.
"Would you want your sons to follow your husband's footsteps and join the military? What if one of your sons chooses this way of life?"

It squeezes my heart because my two oldest sons aren't babies anymore. They aren't really all that far from making these life choices. The choice is not distant. It's creeping closer. It's possible they could choose this life. Maybe it's probable in light of their love for their daddy. Be still my heart.

My husband was a military man when I met him. Seeing him in his uniform only three days after we met, there was no doubt that he was committed to a portion of his life being served out in the military. He was strong, courageous, bold, and focused. I never knew him as anything else. There was no question that he was fully capable of living out this life. Born a soldier, I used to think.

But, my sons? The first time I met them, they were naked and screaming their heads off. Only did they quiet down when they were safe in my arms. They just knew that I was their mama. They wanted me. Needed me. I wiped their tears. I held their hands. I rocked them to sleep. I prayed for them. Stayed up all night when they were sick. Brushed their teeth until they were five. I don't know if they'll ever be that strong. I don't know if they'll be courageous. Bold and focused? I just don't know. I have to seems different to send my sons...

Here's my next thought about that very same question: Would I want my sons to go? Guess what? The choice is theirs. They have a choice. Only by God's grace am I living in the right country, during the right decade so I don't have to send my son or daughter or husband anywhere they don't want to go. They are free. That's what all the soldiers of the past ensured for us---OUR FREEDOM TO NOT HAVE TO GO! The freedom to not have to send our children. That's a sweet gift we've been given.

There was a time in this country...not too long ago...that you didn't have a choice. It didn't matter whether you wanted your son to go. His number was called. He went. No discussion. The "selection" process was based on when you were born. The precious memories of your child's birth numbed by the fact that the year they came into this world sent them to war.

Our good friend was drafted during the Vietnam War. It didn't matter that his mother probably didn't want him to go. He had to go. My husband's grandfather was drafted during World War II. He left on a bus for bootcamp thinking he would be returning in a couple weeks and he came home...two years later. Are you kidding me? Your son's draft number puts him on a bus and you don't see him for TWO YEARS? I'd say we're pretty blessed to live in the last several decades.

In 2012, not every person has to serve. Awesome. Our family chose this way of life. You can't pity us during the deployments. My husband's commitment is up--we could get out at any time. We've chosen to commit to a life that would entail being separated for extended period of times. We've chosen a way of life that might be a tad bit more dangerous than the average job and more stressful on a marriage. His number wasn't drafted. There's no penalty if he chooses to get out. He chose to stay in.

Yet, the only reason there's no draft today is because of the men and women that are still choosing to go. Someone has to go. My husband missed Christmas so some other father didn't have to. Another soldier will miss their child's birth, so my husband can make it home for his son's birthday.

My friend's son will go next year, so that my sons have a choice.
Someone else's son will go, so my sons don't have to...

And if the day comes when one of my sons puts on a military uniform...
If the day comes that one chooses to go...
If my son standing before me asks me what I think about his choice to serve...
I'll close my eyes, think of that screaming, helpless baby, and thank the Lord that he grew into a strong, courageous man...
It will be his choice...not mine.

I need to start praying for strength...
Surely all three of my sons wouldn't make that choice...
It's different to me the thought of sending my sons...

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

I Lift My Hands...

All of my weary (and not weary) friends need to go sit alone in their unmoving car, close their eyes, and listen to Chris Tomlin's song, I Lift My Hands...

It's a cry to heaven for all of us who long to believe...

I know some women with great, unwavering faith. My mom is one of those women.
She just believes God. She believes Him with every ounce of her being. She's like Peter. She'd jump overboard into a sea just to get to Jesus.
I'd wait for Him to walk to me. I don't really like water.
Apparently that faith-gene skips a generation.

I hear Chris Tomlin's song and my soul just reaches up to heaven along with my hands...
Let faith arise...
Let faith arise...
I lift my hands to believe again.
You are my refuge. You are my strength.
As I pour out my heart, these things I remember.
You are faithful, God, forever.

Mark 9:14-24
The situation was hopeless. A father reaching out for Jesus. There was nowhere else to go. No cure had been found. No other chance for help.
Maybe...maybe this man who works miracles could do something...
Through the crowd, the father cries out to Jesus, "Teacher, I brought you my son."
Among the crowd, the son is brought forward--possessed by an evil spirit--seizing, foaming at the mouth, and gnashing his teeth before the people that had gathered. I imagine those closest to the scene stepped back. Maybe some further away craned their necks to get a better view.
I imagine this weary father digging deep in his heart to feel any sort of hope. He'd probably been disappointed so many times before. But maybe...

"How long as he been like this?" Jesus asks.

"From childhood. It has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him." I wonder if the father even had any memories of his son before this spirit had possessed him. I wonder if the father had searched endlessly for help only to face continual rejection.

"But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us," the father pleads.
"If you can do anything, help us." Desperation. There was nowhere else to turn.

I wonder what Jesus did before he spoke to this father. I wonder if he looked deep in the father's eyes with compassion. Maybe Jesus even reached out and put his hand on the tired shoulders of the father.
Could it be possible?
"If you can?" said Jesus. "Everything is possible for him who believes."
Everything is possible for him who believes.

Can't you imagine the joy piercing through the darkness in this father's soul? The praise that must have raced through his body. His mind echoing the truth that had just been spoken. It's possible. It's actually possible. My son could be healed.

I can hear the father immediately exclaiming, "I do believe!" I do believe.
I envision a pause before the next statement. I don't know why I always read the story with a pause at this point. I just imagine that as he spoke boldly his belief, there was a simultaneous recognition of the possibility that maybe he didn't really fully believe. That he needed help to believe.

"Help me overcome my unbelief!" the father says.
Do you think he whispered it?
Do you think he fell to his knees before this Savior and begged for belief?
Do you think he raised his hands to believe again?

I always think of this passage in the Bible whenever I hear Chris Tomlin's song, I Lift My Hands. I've always imagined the father raising his hands to Jesus. His soul longing for belief. I lift my hands to believe you. Help me believe you.

Here's the words to the song:
Be still. There is a healer.
His love is deeper than the sea.
His mercy is unfailing.
His arms a fortress for the weak.
Let faith arise...
Let faith arise...

I lift my hands to believe again.
You are my refuge. You are my strength
As I pour out my heart,these things I remember.
You are faithful, God, forever.

Be still. There is a river.
That flows from Calvary's tree.
A fountain for the thirsty.
Your grace that washes over me.
Let faith arise...
Let faith arise...

I lift my hands to believe again.
You are my refuge. You are my strength.
As I pour out my heart, these things I remember.
You are faithful, God, forever.
I lift my hands to believe again...
Let faith arise...
Let faith arise...

I sat alone in my car tonight, closed my eyes as this song came on the radio, and the wee little mustard seed of faith that God gave me grew as I reached my hands up to believe again...

Help me believe you, Lord.
And I beg you to help me overcome my massive amounts of unbelief.

The father walked away with a healed son.
I drove away refreshed.
One was a true miracle.
Mine felt like a gift.
The gift of refreshed faith.

I lift my hands to believe again...
Let faith arise...

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Boys and War

What is it with boys and war?
Are they truly born with an inner desire to blow things up?
Is it a protection thing? Like maybe God placed in them the drive to protect the protect those that they protect those that can't protect themselves...maybe even to protect each other?
I don't know, but I do know that from nerf bullets to air soft rifles, my boys love playing war.

Rocking my sleepy-eyed little guy to sleep, I softly sung some of his favorite songs.
Jesus loves me this I know. For the Bible tells me so. Deep and wide. Deep and wide. There's a fountain flowing deep and wide. The B-I-B-L-E. Yes that's the book for me.
It's all in the tone of voice. I've always heard that any song, gently sung, can be used as a lullaby.
Not true.

His eyes drooped closed. One more song and the never-ending bedtime routine would be over.
I picked a curious choice for a song, but again, I believed in the lie that it's all in the tone of voice.
Softly, sweetly I begin to sing.
I may never march in the infantry. Ride in the cavalry. Shoot the artillery. I may never fly over the enemy, but I'm in the Lord's army. Yes, Sir.
I'm caught up in the fact that my voice sounds pretty good singing in a whisper. There's no pitch to keep. It's impossible to tell when I'm singing so quietly that I'm tone deaf.
I begin the song again when I notice that the dozing baby has grown rigid.

I may never march in the infantry. His lower leg swings to the beat of the song.
Ride in the cavalry. His body tenses with excitement.
Shoot the artillery. Closed eyes spring open and he shoots something across the room.
I may never fly over the enemy. He sits straight up in my lap and his little arms soar back and forth with energy.
I'm in the Lord's army. Loudly he proclaims, YES, SIR!

We sing together. Not softly.
I'm in the Lord's army. YES, SIR. I'm in the Lord's army. YES, SIR. I may never march in the infantry. Ride in the cavalry. Shoot the artillery. I may never fly over the enemy, but I'm in the Lord's army. YES, SIR.

Wide awake. Shame on you who told me it's all in the tone of voice.

Now we proceed to shoot things around the room.
How can he be so ridiculously cute so late at night?
"I shoot my elephants."
"I shoot that book."
"I shoot YOUR LEG, Mommy." (I wanted to shoot his leg too.)
"My daddy shoots things, Mommy."
"Mommy, my daddy shoots things."

Already? So young and he's already playing this game?

It's not because we're a military family that my boys shoot things.
Doesn't every boy shoot imaginary things and blow things up?
It's truly not the shooting that bothers me.
It's not even the playing war that bugs me.
It's the moment my children use the word "Daddy" and "shoots thing" in the same sentence.
That always takes my breath away. I don't ever really know how to answer.
At two, they say "Daddy shoots things" with a smile. It's so fun to play daddy and shoot your stuffed animals. Totally innocent.
At four, they say "Daddy shoots things" and there's a hint of curiosity behind the statement.
The question I've seen in all their eyes at different moments in their life, "Is it okay?"
"Is it okay that Daddy's job is to blow things up?"
I don't know. After all these years, I still don't know what to say. Maybe I need to find an answer to that question so I'm not always so speechless at that moment.

There was a very real moment for each of my children when they realized that war isn't always a game. It's not pretty. It's not for fun. It's not without cost. You can't just turn it off on the XBox 360 when someone gets tired.
I know exactly where I was the first time I heard the statements and the questions asked from the mouths of my own children.
Tucson, Arizona. September, 2003.
I wasn't prepared. (I'm still not prepared.)
My older boys were two and four at the time. Our squadron had just left for a 5+ month deployment to both Iraq and Afghanistan. Our life in Tucson had fallen into a routine without daddy. We were all adjusting fine.
Life was almost normal.

Picking up my two-year-old from the nursery after Bible study, one of workers leaned in and whispered,
"It's no big deal, but I want you to know that Josh was flying around the room dropping bombs on his friends."
Mortified, I apologized and fumbled around for an explanation. I hadn't been a mom long enough to handle anything well so I took full blame.
"I'm sooo sorry. See his daddy's deployed. And...And..."
She interrupted me.
"I know. All the boys were shooting things. Josh just kept saying, 'My daddy drops bombs. My daddy drops bombs.' I guess he adores your husband, huh?"
I guess so.
Sweet little Josh. Just playing he was like Daddy for a while.
He had no idea that sometimes it's real.
I saved the tears for the car.
I wanted to scream...WE DON'T DROP BOMBS ON PEOPLE, JOSH.
But how could I say that?

Only a week or so after Josh bombed his nursery school, my four-year-old was playing with a toy sword from Sea World. He was stabbing everything. The couch. His brother. My legs. The palm tree. Nothing was safe from Zach and his sword. He was protecting our home from the imaginary "bad" guys.
I couldn't take it any longer.
"ZACH, stoooop stabbing everything. Swords can hurt people."

He stopped for a second. Studying the sword, he turned it over and over in his hands. A miracle...he might actually obey me this time. I went back to cutting carrots.
"Mom, do swords kill people?"
"Yes, Baby, swords kill people."
"Mom, do guns kill people?"
"Yes, Baby, guns kill people."
More silence.
I was still only half paying attention.
I should have known where this conversation was going. In my defense, he was my oldest. My first time through the questions. I didn't anticipate the connection would be made by a four-year-old.
"Yes, Baby, what?"
"Mom, do bombs kill people?"
Oh my. Oh my.
"Yes, Baby, bombs kill people."
He tilted his head and looked me in the eye, "Daddy drops bombs, Mom. Daddy drops bombs."
His shoulders drooped. He looked sort of sad. I think he got it--like a part of him understood that somehow Daddy dropping bombs wasn't really all that fun.
All I could do was hug him.
"Daddy drops bombs to protect the good guys, Honey. He doesn't want to drop bombs, but as long as our guys are on the ground, Daddy's job is to keep them safe."
I don't know what else to tell you, Little Guy.

And I still don't know what to tell my little guy.

I know my boys love playing war.
The biggest boy in my house actually goes to war.
They are two very different things.
Although, maybe they are both motivated by the inner nudging that some things are worth fighting for...
Maybe some things are worth protecting...

I still have no idea what to do about the questions.

I suppose I'll just love on my boys, hug their little necks, and let them practice protecting each other with nerf bullets and air soft rifles.
And tonight, I'll Skype with my husband in Afghanistan, love him, and pray for him as he protects our guys that are serving in more dangerous situations than he.
Somewhere in this country, there's a wife...there's a mom...there's children...praying for their soldier on the ground. They are thankful my husband is strapped in his plane, flying above on alert...just in case...just in case they need protected. It's not for fun. It's always to protect something.
I want my husband to protect that father...
I want him to ensure the safety of someone else's son...
Maybe some things are worth fighting for...

Maybe that's how I need to answer my children next time they ask.
If Daddy would have to do what he's trained to do, it's so another daddy has the chance to come home.
It sure will be nice when Jesus comes back and we don't have to answer any of these questions.