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A Silver Star Thank You

A funny thing happened on the way home after an authors’ panel.

I’d just finished a conversation with best-selling novelist, Diane Chamberlain, enjoying a rush of excitement that comes after chatting with someone you admire. Walking through a parking lot at Cameron Village to meet my daughter, I spied a license plate with Silver Star for Gallantry posted on it. As I kept walking by the car, I thought, “Wow. That’s pretty special.”

The Silver Star Medal is awarded to servicemen for gallantry in action against an enemy of the United States.

I dug into my pocketbook for a pen and pad and wrote, “Thank you for your service.” I’ve never done that before. I feel a little strange saying five easy words to people who’ve sacrificed home and family, experienced life and death situations, and endured hardships that test emotional, physical, and spiritual strength. Yes, a thank you is nice but in no way compares with their effort.

On Sunday, however, I decided to turn around and leave the note. As I raised the windshield wiper to secure the paper, I heard a woman’s voice ask, “Is that your car?”

I glanced up to see a distinguished looking couple advancing toward me. The gentleman locked eyes with me and nodded.

Busted.

Embarrassed, I slid the note from under the wiper, and said, “Well, I’ll just hand it to you.” As he read the note and smiled, I stepped back, wanting to get away, wanting disappear. I’d meant the note to be an anonymous act of gratitude. He looked up and thanked me for it, but I didn’t want to be thanked for writing a quick, little note.

More embarrassment.

I explained I’d seen the notation on his license plate and confessed, “I didn’t think I’d be caught red handed.” I stepped forward, shook his hand, and said, “thank you,” again.

Then I decided to share, to try and explain that his service really did mean something to me, that I wasn’t just passing along a trite expression like “Have a nice day.” I told him, “I wasn’t expecting to be a military mom, but I have a son in ROTC at UNC-Chapel Hill and a son at West Point.” He said, “And does that make you apprehensive?”

I hesitated just for a second before admitting, “No, because I pray every day for them.” His companion started clapping. “Yes! That’s right. We have to pray for our people in uniform.” We chuckled. I thanked him again and finally completed my get away.

The veteran seemed genuinely happy with the note. I left him staring at it, smiling.

I’ve written before that words are powerful, that they make a difference. And now I know even trite ones, even easy ones can be special, too. A “thank you” says, “I noticed you. You made a difference in my life. Your effort counts.”

Pass along a “thank you” when you have a chance.

Who needs one today?

Simon’s Lesson

In past posts, I’ve written about my sons’ journeys to West Point. Last year, Quinn was accepted, but Lane was medically disqualified because of childhood asthma.

 This spring, Lane re-took the methacholine challenge test and passed it, overruling the asthma diagnosis from his medical chart. Yea. Praise the Lord.

He received a senator’s and a congressman’s nomination to re-apply for West Point. He worked hard all year at UNC-Chapel Hill with his academic classes and as a freshman ROTC member, earning coveted spots on the Army 10-miler Run in Washington, DC and the Ranger Challenge team. He earned the respect of his ROTC upperclassmen through good decisions, a positive attitude, and a willing spirit.

Everything looked excellent for his second try at the military academy.

I prayed earnestly for God’s will for his life. But even while those prayers rose from my heart, I kept dreaming of his acceptance. Thoughts like “When Lane has to survive Beast Barracks,” or “At Plebe-Parent Weekend next year” regularly flitted across my brain.

Recently, Lane received a lovely letter from West Point announcing that although he was “academically qualified” and “medically qualified” (Praise God again), he couldn’t be offered a placement in the class of 2018 because of “shrinking class sizes” and “budget cuts.”

Lane said he was fine. He worried about Quinn, his twin who wanted his brother to experience West Point with him. Of all of us, Quinn probably was the most disappointed.

Driving him home from college, I reminded Lane of Simon of Cyrene, the Jewish man who had arrived in Jerusalem to celebrate Passover but was forced to carry Jesus’ cross on the way to His crucifixion. Simon had his plan in mind, but God had another one.

I likened Lane’s story to Simon’s. “God has a plan for you, Lane, and because it’s God’s plan, it’ll be a great one.” (Jeremiah 29:11 is one of our favorite verses.)

Simon had worked hard and traveled a long way from north Africa to Jerusalem, maybe anticipating being part of the Jerusalem Passover for the first time in his life. He never expected to be part of the horrible experience of a crucifixion.

Thousands of years later, however, we’re still discussing him and learning from him. This incident affected him so much that it seems he shared his experience with his family. His sons, Rufus and Alexander, were known to the early church and are mentioned in the Bible as well. (Mark 15:21)

Lane said, “I’m fine, Mom. I know I’m supposed to be at Carolina. All the time I was re-applying, I felt like I was slamming up against God’s will. I look at it this way—I’m supposed to be a missionary for those guys in my suite.”

Well, okay then. Lane’s got it. He didn’t need Simon’s story.

Pretty sure his mom did.

Journaling Then and Now

While Quinn has been enduring Cadet Basic Training for the past five weeks, he’s shared with us the pages of his journal. We receive an update about once a week. We treasure all the details of his new life as a “soldier scholar.”

I’ve kept journals sporadically all my life. I wish I’d been more faithful to writing them. It’d be fun to look back at them now that my memory is fading little by little.

Both Anna and Hattie have kept wonderful travel journals starting when they were nine and seven and we took our first home exchange. The summer after that trip, we read theirs and mine at dinner every night to recreate the trip and prompt discussion of memories.

Lane and Quinn keep prayer journals and have for years.

Quinn has kept a journal since he was five years old. He started with a journal from Disney World.
We’d given them ten dollars to spend any way they wanted. During a shopping excursions, Quinn approached me with a notebook. The cover was as cool as a notebook could be with Winnie the Pooh’s face embedded in soft, gold fur on the front. Solid fur on the back. Beautiful.

I flipped it over and admired it but gasped when I spied the price tag. Nine dollars. Pretty much his entire spending money.

“Quinn,” I said, “This is a nice notebook, but we can get one for about fifty cents at home, and you can buy something else.”

“No. I want to keep a journal in it, and I want to start today.”

How could my English teacher/sporadic writer self refuse that argument?

He bought the book and started writing that night. “Day 1. The worst day of the week. It rained and rain.(sic)

His only stipulation to writing was his entry was something different each day. “Day 36. Today I lost a tooth at school!” My journal entry might have read, “Thank Goodness I didn’t have to pull it out.”

“Day 93. Today I got a duck!” This duck business happened because I was experiencing moving guilt and hoping the ducks—one for each child—would somehow help the transition.

He was faithful to keeping a journal for one thousand days. That day fell on Christmas Day 2004. After the Christmas presents had been explored, the breakfast casserole eaten, we gave Quinn a special gift for completing such a tremendous feat, a box set of C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia.

Today his entries are different. “Today I qualified as a sharp shooter, making 33 out of 40 targets.” That’s with an M16.

“We stood in formation at parade rest for 2 1/2 hours waiting for a urine test.”

“Today we got to sleep late to 5:15. Yay sleep!!!”

The entries are quite different, but I am thankful for them. They’re precious and give us insight to what he’s experiencing.

Thank Goodness for that Winnie the Pooh journal that started him on a journaling life.

Fourth of July Thoughts

July 4th. Three days since we left Quinn at West Point sporting his first, free haircut. I’ve shed a few tears, yes, but I think I’ve done pretty well.

I’ve left children at college before. I’ve felt the pull of the heart. I’ve experienced the unsettling feeling that our box set has been broken, not worth quite as much as the original. I know this idea isn’t true. It’s the melodramatic musing of a mother who is learning about new family dynamics. But still.

Leaving a child at West Point (or any of the service academies) isn’t the same as leaving a child at college. The leaders of these New Cadets who are experiencing Basic Training (or Beast) right now are busy changing these young men and women from civilians to military people–military people who will serve in the military after graduation, not start climbing the corporate ladder at a Fortune 500 Company.

Yes, I’ve managed to hold back most of my tears, but today was a weepy kind of morning. Maybe my tears surfaced because of the patriotic posts that popped on my Facebook feed. Maybe it was the saber-like pain in my right shoulder that my chiropractor attributes to stress from last weekend. (You think?) Or maybe it was the fact that I had written exactly one word on my way towards my 1500-word goal for today.

Whatever the reason, this morning was just a touch soggy in my office. That’s okay. I remind myself that Quinn is where he wants to be, that we’ve prayed all over his future (along with his siblings), that I’m proud that he loves his country and wants to serve like the veterans he admires.

It’s good. It’s good. It’s good.

Happy 4th of July!

Recipe for a Last Supper

Tomorrow we leave for West Point.

If everything goes as planned, Quinn won’t be back home until Thanksgiving. For the past two weeks, I’ve been cooking his favorite meals and desserts. He asked for pesto twice, so I thought I’d share my recipe today.

Pesto
2 cups packed fresh, washed and dried, basil leaves
¼ cup pecans *
2-3 crushed garlic cloves
¾ parmesan cheese
olive oil**

Puree the first four ingredients in a food processor using the steel blade. With the machine running, slowly pour in the olive oil through the top or the feed tube. Process until mixture is combined.

Enjoy with pasta or spread on crusty bread. Store leftovers covered in the refrigerator or freeze.

*The original recipe calls for pine nuts, but they are expensive–even in whole food stores or in the strip district of Pittsburgh. I always have pecans in my freezer and use them because my family doesn’t taste a difference. I’ve also seen recipes using walnuts. Experiment.

**The original recipe calls for ½ cup of olive oil. I can’t bring myself to use that much, so I drizzle the oil in the mixture until all the ingredients bind together in a paste.

This is a quick recipe (except for picking and washing the basil) and good for hot summer nights. I hope you enjoy it as much as we do.

He’s had his favorite meals, broken in his new boots, and packed his bag. We’re ready for the new chapter God’s written for us.

Go Army! Sink Navy!

Happy Mother’s Day

God loves all His children. True. Sometimes, though, I think He might have a special place in His heart for mothers. Think of all the mothers in the Bible: Sarah, Leah and Rachel, Hannah, and, of course, Mary.

I thought of God and mothers this week when I sat in my Bible study and watched a mother hold her beautiful little daughter. The bright-eyed baby gazed over her mother’s shoulder taking in all her surroundings. Of course, then my mind journeyed to my four babies, the last two of whom are graduating from high school in less than four weeks.

I didn’t expect the emotions that swelled in my chest, but they prevented me from singing the first hymn. The leader announced the next one, Rock of Ages, a song I sometimes hummed while I rocked my babies. Fresh tears pooled in my eyes.

I learned that we were expecting twins during my five-month sonogram. What a wonderful surprise. Outside the exam room, my husband waited for the invitation to enter after the preliminary checks. I had several minutes to contemplate the spectacular news by myself. I vacillated between giggles and tears. I wondered how two more babies would fit in with our two little girls at home. My brother and sister-in-law already expected twins. Two sets of twins in the family?

Fast forward eighteen years. I’ve mentioned in this blog my sons’ pursuing acceptance to the service academies. In December, I received a call from one of our senators that Quinn was receiving a nomination for West Point. The administrator called because of the “twin thing” he said and to find a time to contact Quinn directly. I had the news for several hours before Quinn heard, a sweet time of savoring words like “stellar interview” and “fine, young man.”

Five months later, I received a call from our congresswoman’s office. This liaison also wanted a time to call Quinn. Before she actually said the words, she made me promise not to tell him. Congresswoman Ellmers wanted to deliver the news herself.

My heart was already full because I knew what the call meant, but the tears didn’t come until she said, “Quinn is going to West Point next fall.”

I kept the secret—even from my husband—from 10:15 until 6:15. Eight hours to ponder the ramifications of attending West Point and becoming a soldier. Realizing his dream had come true. Contemplating his brother who was medically disqualified for asthma. Thinking of the craziness in North Korea.

What gifts God gives to mothers—crushing hugs and sticky kisses, crumpled, construction paper cards and bouquets of dandelions, “Mom, these burger bundles are fantastic!” and sweet, powerful secrets. Another mother comes to mind who “treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.” (Luke 2:20).

Thank You, God, for the gift of motherhood.