Typical Military Exchanges, and not-so-typical Modern Occurrences

The other day, just like so many other days, we drove onto a military post. This happens almost daily. Sometimes we go through the guarded entrance multiple times in a single day. Such is the life of people in the service. And it becomes so much ‘the norm’ that on the rare occasions I bring a ‘civilian’ in with me and have to fill out a visitor’s pass, I find it entertaining how the novelty of being allowed ‘on the base’ can possibly be held in any spectrum of excitement for anyone. The same old show your id, wait for the little gate to go up, and drive through is part of my mundane routine.

But today, as we drove onto Rammstein for a second time, something hit me in a new light. As my husband handed the E4 (maybe E5) our id’s, the less than 10 second conversation went something like this:

“Hey sir, ma’am.”

“hey, how’s t’going.”

“livin’ the dream.”

“yeah, sounds ‘bout right. Stay warm, brother. Take it easy”

“Everyday. Thanks.”

More was exchanged in those 21 words than can quite be understood when just reading the short dialogue in black and white. There was a bond between these two men, my husband and the young man on duty, that existed instantaneously. The sincerity of feeling in what may look like colloquialisms runs deeper than what appears to be catch phrases. They were speaking the same language, communicating concisely what shared experiences in military service put into those phrases that make them more profound. Each expression held empathy and weight as the young man, seeing my soldier’s position in the quick glance of an id card, knew immediately that the man in the car understood and experienced his own scenarios of ‘gate guarding’ – as the three simple words, “stay warm, brother,” conveyed. His response was not just wrapping up a 10 second routine, it was honest gratitude expressed for a fellow soldier giving him the brief acknowledgement he deserved for being out in the snow, doing his duty, and doing that menial task with…well, if not quite a smile, a visible good attitude.

All this hit me as we rounded the bend to the post exchange. It doesn’t matter that I’ve seen such exchanges over and over (although where we are stationed now, the personnel of the base is so small, the task of gate duty is out-sourced; not that the non-military personnel are no less friendly or appreciated, but it lacks the ‘buddy in arms’ connection that a military post with military personnel manning it has). As we got ready to go into the mini-mall of this larger post, I told myself that I must try to get this written down.

We enjoyed a little stroll and some shopping, but were interrupted by a new event that I have not experienced before. In the middle of my Love wanting to spoil me and buy a lovely Irish wool sweater (one of the benefits of an overseas post, vendors from nearby European countries bring their lovely wares in for eyeballing right in our own little shopping centers…though I rarely buy from them), there was an announcement over the loudspeaker:

“Attention, all customers and employees, there is an emergency. Please exit the building immediately at the North entrance. I repeat, this is an emergency – please gather your belongings quickly and exit the building.”

Now this was new. I was not nervous, everyone around me seemed calm, moved with purpose but not uncontrolled by any means to the exit, chatting as they went. Once outside, we asked a couple of people if they knew what was going on. Then my husband saw the bomb squad headed over toward what is I think the airstrip and airport.

There was no explosion, no chaos, just people casually leaving, or gathering in small groups to talk and maybe wait out the shut-out, and I heard plenty of people making jokes like wanting to get out and play in the snow anyway. We needed to make the 2 hour drive back home, so that won over my curiosity to stick around and see what the result was (bomb threat or false alarm?) and my desire to buy that lovely grey sweater.

I certainly hope that this second occurrence never becomes as ‘mundane and routine’ as the first. I pray our military posts remain a place of safety. Unfortunately, there have been few and far between cases of tragedy inside those guarded walls. I do worry how much longer these rare incidents will stay just that – rare. I wonder if being an American military wife will continue to seem like a secure life situation, despite the irony in my better half coming face to face with such dangers as a fact of his job. I don’t know the outcome of the emergency call (or if I will have the privilege of finding out). But I do know that, for now, we’ll be passing through those check points plenty of times as always. Maybe from this point on though, I’ll remember to have respectful recognition for the security surrounding the doorways to military life as well as those keeping that door secure.

*I did end up being able to find out that the incident was just an empty threat, and the individual was apprehended quickly. Just so you know everything on the base was calm and quiet. False alarm, thank goodness.

Goodness Gracious Chocolate Glazed Donuts

So I have a little anecdote/story to share with you from this weekend. It’s pretty personal – and it shows a little of the good-bad-ugly side of myself, so be gracious with me! I hope it does a couple of things – shows you that I’m still learning, just like everybody else; and reminds you to grow a little in graciousness.

GRACIOUS: pleasantly kind, benevolent, and courteous.

I was on my way home from dropping off a friend in the city. We were headed out of town for the weekend to Koblenz, Germany (lovely town, if you ever get the chance to visit). Our purpose was to drop off a friend and crash her parents 25th anniversary party. Good plans, yes? It is about a 3 hour drive from where we live, and I was running a tad bit late for us to get going. I had stopped for gas, and prayed that my family would be gracious with me for the fact we were running late to get on the road.

When I got home, ‘nothing’ was done except a bag of clothes packed for my son. I have to admit, did not act very gracious with them as I began to bark orders and angrily make a quick breakfast (earlier that morning, I had asked my husband to pack a bag for Zeke, make breakfast, take the trash out, and do what he could to help us get out the door when I got back…he heard the first thing at least…I guess). I was sort of ‘over it’ by the time we were halfway to the military base to fill up our gas card funds. We were conversing like normal people and had worked out the fastest way to get back on the road. The hubby ran on the military base (with one simple request from me to please get donuts at the gas station too) while the kids and friend and I waited at the park across the street.

My friend and I even had a good conversation about what these kinds of ‘disappointing situations’ are supposed to teach us. She had her own somewhat similar situation going on with her photographer friend who got the date mixed up for the anniversary party. We talked about how we expect people to be gracious with us, but fail to extend the same graciousness for their failures and forgetfulness. Hm. Then we prayed, and the car pulled in right then to pick us up and get back on the road. I got in, and looked at the box of donuts: they were the wrong kind. They were not the kind of donuts I like at all.

And so began again my frustrations with my husband. Poor guy – those donuts just made me think of how much ‘he didn’t think about me’ (even though I was completely overlooking the fact that he had waited on me to get home, he had packed our son’s clothes, he was trying his best: and he did buy the donuts! No, for me, it wasn’t enough and I was mad. Didn’t he know I only liked the plain hole-in-the-middle glazed donuts? None of this custard-filled chocolate icing crap! I wouldn’t eat one and I wouldn’t speak to him. (yes, folks, this is the point where you can shake your head and say, good grief! this girl is ridiculous!)

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This is a story….

…about a boy and a shoebox.

 

Before you hear the story, you might need a little background information. Have you ever heard of Samaritan’s Purse? This is an organization that was started by Billy Graham’s son, Franklin Graham. In the description of what they do, you can read on their site that ‘For over 40 years, Samaritan’s Purse has done our utmost to follow Christ’s command by going to the aid of the world’s poor, sick, and suffering.’ One aspect of this amazing outreach is a program called Operation Christmas Child. “It was a simple idea that became the worldwide ministry of Operation Christmas Child—to minister to children in war-torn and famine-stricken countries. In just two decades it has inspired everyday people to provide more than 100 million gift-filled shoeboxes to needy children in 130 countries.” (you can read all about that story in a new book called Operation Christmas Child, A Story of Simple Gifts).

I’ve been a part of this neat outreach over the years, from being a child and packing boxes with my parents, helping pack the shoeboxes that will get sent to the center in North Carolina, and even got to go distribute boxes when I was a teenager once: we went to Mexico to some of the children who received them. My husband had gotten to be a part years ago at the collection center where they check the boxes and get them ready to go.

But this year was different. It was special. And that’s where this story starts…

This story is really about 2 shoeboxes, and a boy and girl. But the story starts with a conflict, as all good stories do. What was the conflict? It was one of those inner struggles where a person (a boy) had a thought that he was wrestling with in the battles of his mind. That was where our story begins.

As we were trying to decide what we had time to do in our afternoon, the decision was made among the adults that the best choice was to take the grandkids shopping for the Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes. That ended up taking precedence over the zoo or shopping for their own Christmas gifts with Nonna and Opa. Then I informed the kids what we were going to do: go shopping for the shoeboxes and then go out for ice cream. And something unexpected happened:

“No! I don’t want to buy stuff for someone I don’t know!! I don’t even know what to get!”

Although surprised by the defiant response, I took a moment to observe where this disagreement might be coming from – this boy never before had a problem with sharing or giving. What could be the problem? I pulled up a chair, and the conversation began…

“Zeke, how come you don’t want to put together toys for a child who might not have any? Do you know what the shoeboxes are all about?”

“Mamma, I don’t know what to get him! And I don’t have any good ideas.”

“Well, don’t you think you can pray and ask God to help give you ideas of what to pick?”

After a pause, the boy was still unhappy with that. Then he says “Mamma, that’s too easy.”

Hm- asking God for help is too easy, it can’t really solve anything. How often had I dealt with the same struggle myself? But I pressed on:

“Ezekiel, He’s ready to help us, but we have to ask for help first. Do you think we could pray and ask God to give you ideas?”

It was not an easy struggle for him to win, this battle in his mind – he was not ready to see that prayer would really help him through the troubles he had inside. We talked for almost 30 minutes as the boy thought about, argued, asked questions, and then finally, agreed. The moment of turning was when he began to realize that God already knows the future and would know exactly what child would receive the presents Zeke would pick out. He knelt beside me and prayed for help.

“Jesus, please help me know what to get, and give me good ideas.”

Then we were ready to go.  FullSizeRender (1)

The transformation that took place in the boy as we left for the stores was amazing. The girl was much more ready and willing, having the maturity to understand what giving means, and having experienced what it feels like to be the one giving. She was thoughtful and considerate in the items she picked, her heart fully in the task at hand. But the boy with the shoebox was intent: he had a purpose now, and he was on a mission. His eyes scanned the shelves, picked up an item and studied it, then made the serious decision whether that small token would be the right one for the box. And the ideas of what would fill it with treasures started to formulate in his mind as he changed from randomly searching the shelves to seeking out exactly what was on his mind.

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It didn’t take long to fill the shoeboxes. And both children put their entire heart into the choosing, the purchasing, and the packaging. We celebrated a deed well done at our favorite ice cream place in Albuquerque, NM (I Scream Ice Cream – Bill serves the best ice cream in the best restaurant for it. Fun for all 🙂 ) Then it was home for the evening, ready to finish delivering the shoeboxes in the morning.

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(pssst: tune in tomorrow to hear the rest of the story)

 

The Day I Went Out in My ‘Nightgown’

So I’ve been home from Germany for a few days now to help take care of my grandma. It has been rewarding, contemplative, bittersweet, nostalgic, and fun. Yup, I think that describes it well. But I will definitely emphasize the fun. My 95 year old grandmother still knows how to laugh, how to have a good time, and how to give her grand-daughter a hard time. Which is great, because then it gives me material to write about, hee hee.

Yesterday, my mom and I took my grandma out for Chinese food. She loves Chinese – and since she was having a good day, it was a day to celebrate. My kids were spending the day with my in-laws, so it was just us ‘girls.’ We got all dressed up to have a nice lunch together. But when I came out in my version of all dressed up, my grandma only had one thing to say: 

What are you doing going out in your nighty?? I don’t know if I want to go out with you, with no clothes on!

Oh, it was so funny 🙂 I made some silly excuse for my modern fashion and said I’d spent too much time in Europe; they dress funny over there (No, I was not about to have a long conversation about the evolution of women’s clothes and what people actually do wear out in public and that I was actually dressed very decently in comparison to some outfits that dare go out in ‘public’ – but grandma, true to form, made sure she said something about it every 30 minutes. Which was fine by me, she’s a funny lady. She even told our waitress at the Chinese restaurant that she didn’t really ‘know’ this person across the table that decided to go out in their underwear. I just came along and there was nothing she could do about it (hmm, true on quite a few levels!)

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We had so much fun and so many laughs. But the icing on the cake was when we were in the mall after lunch. After walking around a little and even seeing more ‘nightgowns’ for public wear that I joked about with grandma which one she might want so she could go out in her underwear too, an employee from JC Penny stopped us and said to me:

I have a dress in my closet just like that, and I have been wondering how to wear it. You look so cute!

My mom was laughing so hard as my grandma just stared with her jaw dropped as me and this lady discussed briefly the different shoes, leggings, and what not to add to this attire.

 

  I know I don’t have much more time with this lovely lady. So we are making memories and enjoying life and laughs day by day for now. Honestly, I’ve never sat around just talking and hanging out so much in a long time; and going out in a nightgown was a first 😉 Every joke, every hug, every smile will be stored up in my memory bank to keep me company when I miss her in the years to come. And now, when I decide to go out in public in my nightgown, I can smile and think of her.

me at mall

The second lesson learned, ha ha

Or – what NOT to do when you are going to have a birthday party…in your back yard.

I told you all I’d fill you in on the mess story. Well here it is:

telephone conversation, Friday at noon:

Me: “Love, I’m going to mow the lawn, but I want it a little shorter than you did it last week.”

My husband: “Okay, if you just do it how I did though, you don’t have to put the catcher on. But if you go shorter, you’ll have to attach the bag and catch the grass.”

Lawn mowed. Decision? shorter. Method? bagless. Result?

GRASS EVERYWHERE….

later that day….

My husband: “What happened? I thought I told you if you did it shorter, you’ll have to use the bag.”

Me: “oops…well, I used the bag the last 3 rows, does that count?”

30 minutes later – I’m raking up grass. 24 hours later – there is grass in the yard, grass on the kids, grass on my floor, grass in the kitchen…. you get the picture 🙂

But the cool part about this, remember how I said in the birthday story that I asked God to help me not be upset with the mess? Well, I didn’t get upset at all. But I did learn a valuable lesson.

If you’re going to cut your yard-y, don’t do it the day before a party.

Or….details in directions can be life saving….

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Or…actually listen to your husband (I didn’t want to admit that one)

Taking Time

DSCN0125Today, I spent 8 hours of my day hanging out and talking to a real person, a true friend. My husband and I had some friends over, the kids were all playing outside, all day long, and we enjoyed everyone’s company. But one individual, one friend and her two children stayed and spent time – quantity time. We did not watch a movie, we didn’t look at you tube videos, we shared our experiences and thoughts together, our struggles and victories as moms, we talked about hopes and priorities.

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