Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Deployment Day


Every mother is proud of her children. (OK, maybe not every moment with your two-year-old—but you know what I mean.) Yet there are times when a mama feels her heart is just going to burst.

For me, this week is one of those times.

This week—on Thursday, January 31—our son Lars leaves for deployment to Iraq as a C-130 Marine Aviator. He expects to be in Iraq through sometime in August. And he leaves behind his beautiful wife Kelly and precious two-year-old son Bengt.

Why is he doing this? The short answer is that when you are a Marine, you do what the Marines tell you to do. But there’s a longer answer. And of course only he could give you the complete answer. But let me give you a glimpse of my mom-perspective as I’ve prayerfully watched Lars make the decisions that have led to this week.


Lars has always wanted to fly. His grandfather, whom he never knew, was a pilot. Lars had heard the stories of Grandpa Anderson’s B-17 missions over Germany in WWII, and how he loved his subsequent job as a commercial airline pilot. When we went to Washington, D. C., Lars always wanted to spend his time in the Air and Space Museum. His room was tiled with posters and models of planes.

But it wasn’t until a year or so after he graduated from Wake Forest University that he began to seriously evaluate the possibility of entering the military and learning to fly. For a number of months he explored what a Christian view of war and the military looked like for him. He read books, scanned the Internet, and had family discussions about it, asking questions like “What would Jesus say a Christ-follower’s response following 9/11 should be?” He and Kelly thought long and hard and prayerfully about it all.

His enlistment in the Marines, enrolling in Officer Candidate School (OCS) and subsequent Officer Training School, followed by years of flight training, was not a step lightly taken. He became a Marine because he wanted to serve his country, learn to fly, and, above all, I believe, follow what he saw as God’s call on his life at this time. It’s been a whole lot of hard work. Nearly half of his class in OCS did not make it. And the endless hours of flight training and many separations and moves he and Kelly have experienced have not been easy. Life in the Marines is never easy. Ask the thousands of brave men and women who serve in our military—and their families!

But this week is the hardest of all.

I’m sure that, professionally, Lars feels some excitement in doing what he’s trained to do for so long. Like his grandfather before him, he loves to fly. But he is a very, very devoted husband and father. And leaving his wife and son this week will probably be the hardest thing he’s ever done. It will be equally hard for Kelly.

So I’m asking you to pray for them—all three of them: Lars, Kelly, and Bengt. They are three precious examples among thousands of sacrifices being made every day. I am well aware that they are not unique. In fact, some of you reading this may be experiencing the same thing in your families. But they are unique to me. So I’m asking if you will join me in prayer for these three so precious to me.

Am I proud of them? You bet! I’m bursting with pride—in awe, really, of the remarkable young man Lars has become. (I must admit, I struggle with the word “proud.” First, because I don’t mean the wrong kind of pride. And second, because I think we moms sometimes take way too much of the credit—and the blame!—for our kids. Lars is God’s first, mine on loan only for a time. But every one of you moms reading this knows what I mean by “proud”!)

Am I grateful for them? You betcha I am! I am grateful beyond words as I see them listening to the voice of God in their lives and doing their very best to follow it.

Do I love them? More than you could ever know—But, wait, most of you reading this are probably moms. So you can imagine how much I love them.

Notice I’m saying “them.” That’s because Lars and Kelly are an amazing team. And I feel similar pride, gratitude, and love for Kelly. In some ways, her “deployment” may almost be the harder one. So I hope you moms will pray for her especially. She is one terrific mother, as well as one magnificent wife. But being a “single parent” of a very active (though adorable, sweet, precocious—any grandmother reading this can fill in the rest!) two-year-old—all the while missing Lars like crazy—will be a big challenge. Please pray for her.

One last observation from my mama-heart. While this week is hardest of all for Lars and Kelly, it is also hard for Woody and me as Lars’ parents. I feel as if I—as a gifted worrier (more about that in future blogs)—am entering a new chapter with God. It’s a chapter entitled “Trust: Do You Really Believe You Can Trust Me with Lars As He Leaves for Iraq?”

Turning worry into prayer, and ultimately trust, will not be easy for me. I have to be honest with you. The only way I can do it is to stay on my knees. The only way I can do it is to remind myself—every day, maybe every hour—that God loves Lars even more than I do. The only way I can do it is to cling to the same verse we recently sent to Lars on a little laminated card for his wallet:

Be strong and very courageous. Do not be terrified. Do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go. (Joshua 1:9)

“Wherever you go” includes Iraq. It also includes wherever you find yourself or your children today. But we moms need reminding, don’t we?

Will you join me on my knees?

Thursday, January 24, 2008

A Hard January

January is a tough month. Especially here in Wisconsin, the “Frozen Tundra.” It doesn’t help that my window thermometer is reading below zero and that a wicked wind is swirling around the corners of my house.

But it’s not just the weather.

I’ll bet some of you in warmer climes are feeling January, too. In fact, my husband Woody told me he’d heard a news report that January 21 is officially (or unofficially?) the “saddest day of the year.” Apparently someone somewhere has researched this and attributes it to a combination of post-holiday blues, Christmas bills come due, bad weather, and flu season. Or something like that…

For me personally, this is an especially hard January. I’ve just come home from one of life’s most painful tasks—cleaning out my parents’ Florida condo in order to be completely moved out within one month after Mom’s death (We closed the door for the last time on January 19.) And next week our son Lars, a Marine Captain and C-130 pilot, leaves for deployment in Iraq. (More on Lars in a coming entry.)

Back to January.

I think we all—especially moms—need a little perspective in January. A look at The Big Picture. A reminder of the difference that a praying mom can make in a family—and in generations to come. Which is why I want to write today about a couple of precious gems God has allowed me to discover even this January. As we were going through ancient pictures and old files last week, we discovered a letter my dad had saved from my German grandmother, Grandma Schultz, written to her family in 1950. Then my Aunt Betty gave me some notes she had found which this same Grandma had written for what she wanted to say at her 48th wedding anniversary.

Piecing these two treasures together gave me a stunning glimpse into the life of a remarkable woman.


My Grandma Schultz was a remarkable woman who lived what many would call an unremarkable life. A life with a lot of Januarys in it. Grandma was a German-speaking Minnesota farm girl who married a German-speaking farm boy. My dad used to tell me that as farm kids, Grandma had about a first-grade education, and Grandpa about a third-grade education—all in German. They raised their family on a Minnesota farm. Even though they were both born in Mountain Lake, Minnesota, she and my grandfather never learned to speak English until they were in their forties!

What made Grandma remarkable was her quest to know God. Here’s how she described her journey: “Before we joined hands for life we both decided we wanted to live Christian lives, so we started out having daily devotions and were very religious without any knowledge of salvation wich (I’m keeping Grandma’s spelling, just as a reminder that English was not her primary language) gave us no peace of heart . Living religious lives is no passport to heaven, and for the first eleven years [of marriage]….. O how I was hungering for real life from above. In 1916 the most important thing wich must take place in any life took place in our life. As soon as we came to see that being religious and belonging to church did not save us we came to the Lord [in a local revival meeting] as lost sinners and He spoke peace to out hearts and we were made new creatures in Christ and life has been different ever since.”

In one of the CD devotionals for the new Mom To Mom curriculum, Inside Out Parenting (due to be released on May 1, 2008), I describe Grandma’s going forward in that 1916 meeting despite Grandpa’s saying “Sit down, Anna. We’re church members.” Grandpa soon came to a personal saving relationship with Christ himself. But how thankful I am that Anna did not sit down!




Not only did she not sit down. She stood up for what she believed. She found a Bible-preaching church. She and Grandpa raised a Christian family. And she became a praying mom. Listen to these words to her family, written in 1950: “…this past year many, many things have come to my remembrance. When I was in my teen age I don’t know why, but many times it would come to me that I would be married some day and have six children and again and again I would say, ‘No, Lord, I would rather be unmarried than to be married and have children that would not walking the way of God and be lost eternally.’ You’ll understand that in those days we didn’t know anything about being born again or having assurance of salvation, but God put it in my heart to have eternal life….And here I am having the six children and the desire to have you safe in the arms of Jesus has never left me and will never leave me as long as I live. I know we both have failed many times in giving you the rite training, but God in His mercy has led it so that you all have had the chance to experience the new birth which is the most important thing in life. And our prayer is that after our earthly life is finished, we will be able to say, “Lord, here are those wich thou hast intrusted to us. That will be heaven, first to see Christ Who has redeemed us and to praise Him for His love toward us and bringing us safely home.”



As I type these words, I’m picturing January back on that hard-scrabble southwestern Minnesota farm where Grandma and Grandpa Schultz raised their family in the 1920’s and 30’s and 40’s. I’m sure there was more than one January day when Grandma very sad, even felt like giving up (In fact, this makes me wonder what month of the year she buried her third child Alvin, just a toddler…) But even on the darkest, coldest, hardest days, Grandma could pray. Even, I suspect, in January. And what a difference her prayers made for generations to come. They’re encouraging me—and you as well, I hope—on this bitter cold January day in 2008. Maybe January’s not a throw-away month for moms after all.

P.S. Incidentally, I just now discovered my Grandma Schultz's birthday: January 25.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Journey


Happy New Year to you all! It’s been a long time since I’ve written. My last entry was actually just after Thanksgiving. But it seems much longer than that because of where I’ve been since then. I’ve been on a journey. A journey that has, in one way, just ended—and in another, just begun.

For over a year, my mom—who has lived for some time in a lovely retirement community in Florida—has been battling recurrent breast cancer. In the past few months, since she fell and broke her hip the end of July, the battle has intensified. 2007 has been a year of many trips back and forth from my home in Wisconsin to hers in Ft Myers. Just after Thanksgiving, I returned to Florida, where she was in a nursing home—and essentially remained there, living in her condo and spending every day with her until her death in a hospice unit on December 19.

It has been a long, hard journey. And a topsy-turvy Christmas.

For many months we had planned to spend Christmas as a family with “Nini,” as my kids—who’ve loved her dearly—call her. Our whole family was scheduled to fly into Ft Myers on December 22 for a week with her: Bjorn, Abby, and Soren from New Hampshire; Lars, Kelly, and Bengt from North Carolina; and Erika and Richie from Dublin, Ireland. We had condos rented near her home and looked forward to lots of quality time with her.

But God had different plans for her Christmas than we did—bigger and far better, I imagine, than we could ever dream. She got to spend Christmas with my dad—and, better yet, with Jesus. Does it get any better than that?

Yet there was disappointment for us “on this side of the tapestry.” Though my husband and some of our kids were able to fly in for a brief visit with her ten days before she died—and she got to see her newest great-grandson Soren and sing “I love you a bushel and a peck” to her 2-year-old grandson Bengt—not all the kids were able to come. Lars, our Marine pilot son, could not leave his pre-deployment training (he is scheduled to deploy to Iraq in a month). And Erika and Richie could not come early from Ireland.

The week we had planned to spend visiting with Nini we instead spent planning her memorial service, which was held the day after Christmas.

Yes, a very different Christmas than we had planned. God’s plans are, as Isaiah so eloquently reminds us in Isaiah 55:8-9, often very different from ours. As I sat by Mom’s bed those 2 weeks in hospice, I kept remembering Jill Briscoe’s words from a message last summer: “God’s clocks keep perfect time.”

So you can see why it seems a very long time since my last blog entry. Since I last wrote, I have taken a long journey—walking alongside my mother in her last hours and days, hugging all my family around me as we gathered at her gravesite, mourning her loss and celebrating her life. There have been many tears.

But there has also been joy and gratitude, laughter and fun. We celebrated a memorable Christmas together as a family. We love being with our kids—they are just a whole lot of fun, as well as being a strong and wonderful support at times like this. We got to play with our grandsons, savoring precious moments that flew by all too quickly. And we’ve received love and comfort beyond words from countless friends who have written and called and sent tributes and flowers and condolences. Through it all I have been continually reminded of the great, great gift of my mother’s life (I will write much more about her in the future) and the even greater gift of her (and our!) eternal life.

In the span of a few weeks I have experienced a virtual crazy-quilt of emotions. Just about every emotion life brings compacted into a few short—and long—days. Even amidst the wonderful eternal hope we have, I feel sad—very, very sad. I miss my mom. Next to my husband, she has been my best friend.

So how can I begin by wishing you a Happy New Year? Because I am convinced of God’s faithfulness through it all. And I hope you are, too. This past weekend a preacher challenged us to focus each day in 2008 on one characteristic of God and thank Him for it all that day. Today the word that came to me was faithfulness. And the refrain from that great hymn—one which I sometimes sang at the top of my tear-choked lungs as I walked early in the mornings before beginning a day with Mom in hospice:
“Great is thy faithfulness! Great is thy faithfulness! Morning by morning new mercies I see; all I have needed thy hand hath provided. Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me.”

I wonder if some of you have had a topsy-turvy Christmas. If things may not have gone quite as you had planned. If you enter this New Year on somewhat shaky feet. If you might need to be reminded that Jill Briscoe is right (and Scripture backs her up) in saying that indeed, “God’s clocks keep perfect time.”

If so, I hope you can reflect on God’s faithfulness today. And know that He really will provide for you—as He will for me—all you need. Today. And tomorrow. And all the tomorrows of the year ahead. Which makes me able to wish you, truly from the heart, a very Happy New Year!