His Love is as Vast as the Ocean

This was written four years ago. It still holds so much truth I just decided to blog it. Now, my boys are both on dry land for a while and I am able to communicate with them.

Last week as I sat looking at the vastness of the ocean, I was reminded of several things. One, the endless love God has for me. Two, the limitless love I have for my children. Three, two of my boys are somewhere out there under the sea. I may not have knowledge of where they are, but God most certainly does.

Just like I cannot measure or even understand how much God really loves me. My children have no clue how much I adore and love them. No matter where they go or what they do, those lives are a part of me. In the same way, we are a part of God. We are His unique and wonderful creation.

We are never so far away that His love cannot reach us, even in our deepest darkest moments. He is there. He knows exactly where we are and precisely what we are doing, every moment of every day. Knowing this is sometimes my greatest solace when praying for Gods complete protection for all of my children, but especially for the two, I cannot communicate with on a regular basis.

My Red Cross Experience

One thing I feared most was that one or both of my boys would be unreachable if something happened to Ned, or any of us for that matter.

I feared and dreaded the “red tape” I might endure with the American Red Cross. I never had reason to contact them.

On Wednesday, October 25th, that changed. Facing the reality of the depravity of Ned’s illness, I could no longer hesitate.

I was given instructions and the number to call from a lady at the Elizabeth House. She informed me that it may take a little time giving the information but assured me the process was easy.

The initial call consisted of giving information about Matthew. It was easy. After about two hours, our nurse Jen, told me she had talked with Red Cross to validate the information about Ned’s condition. Within 8 hours, I received a call from Diane. She would be managing my case.

She informed me that if I had not heard anything within 8 hours to call her back. I did. She knew Matthews boat had been notified. However, we had gotten no response. So, she put out another plea.

The next day she called and assured me the boat had received notification. She said, “Hopefully, you will hear something from Matthew soon! Please let me know the minute you hear anything.”

Later in the evening, a call came through. I knew immediately it was Matthew. Our connection wasn’t ideal; but, I was able to tell him his Papaw was still alive. Our call was dropped.

Upon returning to the Elizabeth House, after my brief conversation with Matthew, I found out that he had been able to talk to Ned and Mom. What a blessing.

I immediately called Diane. She was thrilled to know we had talked with Matthew. I thanked her profusely.

A few minutes later, I get another call from the Red Cross, informing me that if Ned dies, I am required to open up a new case.

In the wee hours on Sunday, October 29, I received the call about Ned’s passing. Needless to say, sleep was not on the radar after that call. I cried. I prayed. I cried more. Then at 3:45 AM, I once again called the American Red Cross, only this time I had to open two case files, one for each of the boys. Although, I could call and talk with Ryan directly the proper channels have to met for emergency leave. It’s the process.

Several hours later, Diane called. She wanted me to know that she had sent notification to both commands.

The following day, she called again. Just checking to see if I had heard from either boy. Fortunately, later in the day, I was able to inform her Ryan had been granted leave. He would be home.

Tuesday came and went. Wednesday morning she called again. She said, “I have verification that command received the message but they haven’t replied.” I explained that I was very aware of Matthew’s importance on his boat and also aware he may not get to come home.

I told her several times how instrumental she was and how her continual communication with me was much appreciated. I cried while thanking her for going the extra mile for me.

Then she said, “I normally don’t share my story but I will share with you. The reason I became a volunteer is because I had the same situation happen to me. My son was deployed when my father died. I called the ARC. They didn’t follow-up. I even held up my dads funeral for 10 days waiting to hear from him, which caused issues with other family members. When I finally received notification, I was told that he was on special assignment and they could not even deliver the news to him, much less allow him to come home. Due to the lack of communication, I was determined not to allow this to happen to other families.”

No wonder she was so remarkable communicative, She knew. She understood. Instead of being angry and complaining about the system that failed her, she did something about it.

But her story continues.

Diane is a Gold Star mom. She has buried one son. Diane has another son who was shot at Fort Hood in 2009. She has not just sat around mourning the loss of one son and the substantial damage to another. She gives and she gives. She goes way beyond the call of duty. She’s just a volunteer.

Diane’s story is only one of many whose families have lost loved ones fighting for our freedom. This family, like so many others, is the reason we celebrate Memorial Day. These men and women have placed their wants, desires and needs aside to defend and protect the United States of America. Let’s say to the families how much we appreciate them for supporting their loved ones decision to become part of something bigger than themselves. Just like Jesus says in John 15:13, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lays down his life for his friends” For years and even now men and women have been called to give up their lives for our freedom.

A crazy idea

Ever had someone present a crazy idea and ask you to be a part of it?  In December 2012 Ned announced that he would be planning a 35th Anniversary shindig for he and my mom.  A surprise shindig for her.  Stunned at his announcement, I thought, “Who does this?”

Ned, that’s who.  When I questioned his sanity, he simply stated, “Well, I doubt we will be around for 50, so I want to do it now.”  Fair enough.

This all came about after Ned successfully battled prostate cancer and had received a clean bill of health.  In fact, after his diagnosis and recovery, he did a lot stuff with great intentionality and fervency.

As with everything, he planned, Kristi and I helped.  He’s an avid planner and sees everything through to completion.  No stone was left unturned.

Fortunately, both Ryan and Matthew had leave and both were in Charleston, at the time. My brother and his son, Zach, were also able to make the trip from their home in Eugene, Oregon.  It was a family affair.

The event turned out beautifully.  They renewed their vows with all of their family and a multitude of friends.  A blessed occasion.

Little did I know at the time how special that event would be for me.  I still thought it was a little hair brained and crazy.

Now, here I sit four years later to tell you, that day has been etched in my memory for life.  You see, I didn’t know at the time what God knew.

First of all, last March, Ned was diagnosed with Stage IV Lung Cancer.  The initial diagnosis was bleak.  No chemo and he might live 4 months.  Chemo would give him 9-15 months life expectancy.  Suffice to say, he is now almost 17 months after being diagnosed and he’s still with us.

Secondly, it would be the last time my family of 6 would be in the same place, at the same time.  Yep, that’s right.  My two older boys have not seen one another in 4 years.

The anniversary took place in June and at the end of July, Ryan would be transferred to Groton, Connecticut to serve on the USS Pittsburgh.  Within about a month of his arrival, he was already doing short “under ways” in preparation for a 6 month deployment.  In the meantime, Matthew would remain in Charleston for the next 1 1/2 before being transferred to Hawaii.

Folks, let me tell you.  I am proud to have two boys serving our country but it’s hard on families.  Time and distance, coupled with little or no communication, makes it difficult. If it’s difficult for me as a mom, think of the wives and children affected.

What at first seemed to be a crazy idea was one of the very best things Ned has ever done. I am grateful and thankful for his persistence in following through with the celebration!

Just as it should be…

It’s hard to believe that just nine years ago we were a family of six. Amy and I were totally outnumbered, just a whole bunch of boys.

In August of 2008, we loaded up two SUV’s and headed off to USC (South Carolina) to drop Ryan off for his first year of college. So much excitement but so much sadness. My firstborn. The one I had spent countless hours taking to while in the womb. The one I walked through the house pointing out anything and everything I could to him. The one I read to over and over and over again, until he turned three and discovered TV. The one whose blue eyes melted my heart every time I looked at them. The one God used to get me over myself. He was leaving. My heart knew it was time but the Momma in me wanted to keep him a little longer.

We adjusted. The dynamics changed for sure. Then we were five.

After Ryan’s freshman year, he decided not to go back. College was not for him. Once again, we were back to six.

Then it happened. June of 2010. We dropped Matthew off at the Navy Recruiting center in Asheville. Said our goodbyes and a few days later received his box of civilian clothes, including his cell phone. No cellphones allowed.  That was the hardest part.  Getting his belongings and not knowing how long it would be until I heard from him.

Now we’re back to five but that too was short lived. The week after Matthew’s graduation from Basic, we would be dropping Ryan off for Basic training.

Just like that our family of six quickly became a family of four. Talk about change in dynamics and a challenge. It was hard. Those boys had been with me longer than Terry had. They were my life before Terry and I really hadn’t prepared for how it would feel to be without them. I didn’t know how to cook for four people. I didn’t even know how to do laundry for four. Everything changed.

Unlike with dropping your child off at college. You don’t know when you’ll hear from them. During Basic they only get to call a couple of times. Mostly they write letter. If time permits.

We made it through. Got accustomed to the new norm. Life kept moving.

Then last year we took our youngest to college. The only girl. To say it was hard for me is an understatement. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. It wasn’t because we were each other’s best friends. We’re not. I’m the Queen.  She’s the Princess. She just kept me constantly on the go. There was always something going on with her. Not to mention, she’s the only girl and she’s my baby. It was a harsh awakening to realize that eighteen years had flown by so quickly.

Then we became a family of three only because Alex’s choice to remain home work and attend Blue Ridge Community College.

Now, here we are. One week away from our fourth child flying the coup. Leaving the nest. Sprouting his own wings to fly.

How do I feel? Excited. Elated. Proud. Oh, without a doubt I will miss him. He has been a delight and joy. I have watched him grow into a strong and very mature young adult. I have seen his strength and faith exemplified through the untimely death of his friend Derrick. I have seen him balance work and school and finish on the Dean’s List. In his eyes, I see the excitement and anticipation of this next chapter of life, and I hear it in his voice.

I refuse to pretend that I won’t shed a tear or fifty but he is so ready and I am so ready for him to fly.

Soon and very soon, a week to be exact. Our family of three will become a family of two. Just as is should be.

What is it about Charleston?

Several weeks ago, Terry and I ventured on a little getaway to Charleston, SC. I'm always happy to go and always sad to leave. There's really nothing about the "Holy City" that I do not like. For me it's like a lighthouse on a hill beckoning this ship to come. It calls me and I go!

Why is my heart so excited and happy to go? I've pondered over the past few weeks and I keep coming back to the same conclusion.

Charleston is where life really began to take on a new meaning for me.

I was a young, silly 19 year old who had lofty ideas of what being married would look like. In fact, over time, I've realized I was most likely more in love with the idea of marriage than I was with the man I married. I was committed, nonetheless.

We married in August of 1988 and moved to Goose Creek, SC, a community right on the outskirts of North Charleston. Since we only had one car, most often, I would take him to work or he would ride in with a buddy.

He was in the Navy, a submariner and Nuke. His work hours were long and taxing. Giving me plenty of time and reason to explore my new home.

Time and again, I would find myself walking the streets of history in downtown or daydreaming of living on the Battery, while walking through Battery Park. Other days, I would find reason to head to Folly Beach or Isle of Palms to soak up some rays and put my feet in the sand.

Only after 2 months of marriage, he was deployed for six months. Suddenly, I found myself in a place where I knew very few people. With the encouragement of my back home support group, I decided to sublet our apartment and go back home to Columbus, NC.

Retuning wasn't difficult because I could still go to Charleston whenever I wanted. It was a good setup.

Frankie, my first husband, returned in early February from his 6 month deployment. Like a few others, within 6 weeks, we were expecting our first child.

I wish I could tell you there was great elation in such good news. There wasn't. A part of me felt excited and the other part of me was wondering what in the world am I doing.? I'm enjoying life. I love the parties, the nightclubs, taking dares to jump in pools fully clothed. I knew I would have to give up, at least a portion, of my lifestyle. Truthfully, I wasn't sure I was ready.

Little by little, I gave it up. Funny how I didn't really miss it once I was removed from it. This was my first notion and inkling that God was pursuing me. No, I'm not one of those who turned on a dime instantly. I'm just saying, I knew I wanted something more for my child than the lifestyle I was currently living. It was about my move away from being selfish and only thinking of myself and putting someone else's need above mine.

Not only do I love everything Charleston I'm also deeply humbled and thankful for the lessons Charleston taught me. It's really where my heart still calls home and sometimes I must go. One day I may stay.

Where I Belong

You have searched me, Lord,
and you know me.
You know when I sit and when I rise;
you perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down;
you are familiar with all my ways.
Before a word is on my tongue
you, Lord, know it completely.
You hem me in behind and before,
and you lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain. Psalm 139:1-6

 

We often find ourselves trying vicariously to live our lives through our children. I suppose that’s why God gave me children who have strong wills and independent spirits.  I learned very early on that I would be rearing children, not living my life and dreams through them, helping and guiding them to make wise and sometimes difficult choices.

Matthew has always had a mind of his own. He always made friends easily, but he rarely ever allowed those friends to control his thoughts or emotions. Matthew could think for himself and he was always extremely pertinacious. As he grew older, we talked about the possibility of home-schooling him, but he said to me one day, “Mom, if God can use me to make a difference in one person’s life, then I want to stay in public school. One person is worth it all.” Matthew did, over the next few years, make a difference in the lives of several of his friends.

At the end of Matthew’s sophomore year, he said, “Mom, I want to be in the military. I want to join the Marines and be on the front lines. Don’t bother signing me up for the SAT or ACT. I’m not going to college.”

My first through was, “Sure thing, Buddy. You’re only 15 and likely to change your mind in a few months.”  Besides, what 15 year old could possibly know he wants to fight on the frontline for his country?

While he spent the next year talking, I ignored him, until the start of his Senior year and he was still talking about it. I called his dad and told him Matthew’s plan, needless to say, he was not a happy camper. Having served in the Navy and knowing the potential Matthew possessed, he convinced Matthew to talk with a Navy recruiter.  Only after lengthy discussions with the recruiter, did Matthew decide the Nuclear program in the Navy best suited him

After Matthew’s decision was made, I really didn’t think it was what he wanted to do; however, as he focused more on the Navy, his excitement accelerated. His hope was to go in immediately after graduation; however, due to the economy the Navy had a significantly higher number of recruits; so, he would have to wait a year. While he was disappointed, it also gave him more time to spend with friends and family and also take a 3 ½ week trip to Europe. The wait also made him more eager to join. At that point, my reluctance and disbelief in his choice diminished.

If there were any doubt left in me, I definitely had closure, if any doubt remained, when Matthew wrote the following words,  “I just want you to know that joining the Navy was the best decision I have ever made. I have definitely found where I belong.” (Letter from Matthew, dated 11 July 2010) Wow! The words resonated my heart and soul, my precious boy has found his calling. I don’t think there is any greater feeling of accomplishment that a mother can feel when she knows that her children are where they belong.