Sunday, October 31, 2010

A SEED PLANTER

I have a new job, one that excites the stuffing out of me.  It doesn't come with an office, doesn't have any big title and the money is lousy.  But that's alright.  You see, I'm the new Seed Planter in town.

 I've been so many other things over the years.  Doing this to get that.  But always in ways that could benefit me,  my family or our future. And that's come with mixed results.  I've done some neat things (taken each of my children to a sporting event and gotten them on the sidelines)......met some interesting people (Paul Harvey, Gerald Ford, Shawn Johnson, Mike Ditka and Ed Thomas).....and traveled to some nice places (Jamaica and Soviet Union).  In every instance, it was about me.  Soaking up the moment, somewhat prideful me.  But I've changed.  I've changed because it's time to.

Let me tell you a story about a little boy named Jake. That's what he's remembered by, Jake.  No last name is needed.  Jake, contracted encephalitis and died several years ago, tragically .  He started feeling punky one day, lethargic, then began running a fever.  No one knew what was happening. Doctors were stumped.  His parents became frantic.  He got sicker and sicker...until he passed away in his mother's arms.  In a span of 72 hours, Jake went from a healthy, bouncing, fun-loving boy....to the end of life. 

His mother, wrote a letter several days after he passed and thanked everyone for their support.  The letter was written so eloquently.  It described so much in a short amount of space, but it hit home.  It told of their families knowledge that Jake was their "gift" and that even though they selfishly wanted him longer, they knew God had a plan.  I'm sure Jake's mother had help in writing that letter. How could she not?  And I don't mean the help came from anyone here on earth.  I couldn't imagine losing a child, let alone putting my thoughts down on paper so soon after burying him.

I tell you about Jake because his name lives on.  Each Holy Spirit Retreat at Lutheran Church of Hope's Alpha class, this story is told.  You couldn't hear a feather drop during Jake's Story.  That's the effect little Jake has.  Yes, his name lives on, and on, and on.  He is impacting lives because of his death.

Several months ago, over 3,500 Iowa soldiers began their deployment to Afghanistan.  The send-offs were magnificent.  They captured the essence of the day.  The pride, the dedication and the duty. Every location defined patriotism.  It was a feel good moment, at least up until the time the busses left the parking lot.  Then the worries set in.  The next nine months are going to be difficult times. Where will the strength come from to endure?  How will family and friends cope? 

Yes, this important time dictates some important measures. I certainly feel that prayer is at the head of that list.  Anything else comes in a distant second.  We need to pray for these 3,500.  Pray for anything you can for them.  For their families, their strength....and foremost, their safety.  Pray, pray, pray. Because "Prayer Changes Everything".  Our state could use some direction and prayer too.  Perhaps the way we support our troops and conduct ourselves will be a carbon copy other states adopt.

A road sign on the outskirts of Des Moines says it all.

 If, and I said, if,...... not when, one of the 3,500 Iowa Soldiers is killed in action, how will they be remembered?  Will it be through a series of features on the TV or radio......an article in the newspaper?   How will that person, the one fighting for your "freedom" be recollected?

 I am not underscoring all of the the memorials that honor our troops who have served before.  They say ALOT.  Their mere presence renders strong men speechless, who become caught in the moment of their days of service.  What am I suggesting?  I just think something in addition to those tributes is called for.  Any person that lays down their life needs to be remembered just like little Jake. We have a duty and a responsibility in prolonging the legacy of those that serve.  I DO know that if one soldier from our state is killed in action that I will be at their funeral.  I have to.  Will you?  Then what next?  I'm praying for an answer.  I keep seeing BOLD, BE BOLD.  Some of you will be able to see more to this story.  Read it again, and again, if you must.  You'll see much more....and that will prompt you to do more.  Here is a prayer taken from Daily Guideposts, "the Daily Inspiration for Our Military Families" for November 1st.   It says BOLD.

 "Faithful Lord, send me a Saint today to shine your light on my path.  And let me be a Saint where another needs it."

 I hope this moves you to think about our Soldiers, especially with Veterans Day coming upon us.  I hope it hits you upside the head.  Yes, I'm seed planting here.  That's my new job and I love it.  God help it grow.

YGG,
John



Thursday, October 28, 2010

A TRUE "WOW" MOMENT

How often do you have a moment that renders you speechless?  The kind that stops you in time.  When everything around you has zero value.........because you can't think of anything more important than that particular moment.  Few of us have those.  But if you do, they last a lifetime.

A dear friend, Pastor Michael Hurst, of Elim Christian Fellowship in Des Moines uses wow alot.  In the middle of a conversation, he'll say wow.  During his sermons, he'll say wow.  The more I hear him say it, the more I'm convinced, he just likes the way it sounds.  "Wow".  I wonder if his wow, is more of a reflective wow.  Like seeing something reflective, for the first time.  Or perhaps seeing it another way when he had his eyes and ears opened further. Knowing Michael though, he's probably fine tuning it for the day he meets his Maker.  WOW!! 

There are all sorts of wows. Like the wow when your sports team does something special.    Or the wow when somebody offends you......or the wow when you 've hit the wall from pure exhaustion.  They have their place, no doubt.

Then there is the other type wow.  WOW, thanks to Lisa Majors of Urbandale for sharing this video story the other day. I'm glad she did.  If there is a story that moves you, impacts your thinking, changes your beliefs....causes you to move out of your comfort zone and do something abnormal...send it to me.  We can share it with others.

SPC CHANNING MOSS

I want you to meet SPC Channing Moss. Moss was seriously wounded in Afghanistan in 2006.  As he lay on the operating table listening to doctors he was keenly aware that death was close by.   In his own words, he was ready to make the ultimate sacrifice that day, fortunately, that didn't have to happen.  What you are about to see....is unique. It's a "WOW" moment.

You'll be able to hear from the doctors that attended to him that day and saved his life.  Let their voices  serve as the real testament to the work our military does, each and every day. Those doctors were in the moment.  I should mention that there are some scenes from the operating room that could be considered graphic in nature.  In my opinion, the shots are tastefully done and add to the moment.......get ready for "WOW".

YGG, John

video


Wednesday, October 27, 2010

MY BABY SHE WROTE ME A LETTER

You've gotten a chance to learn about me, my family and some of the military happenings in our lives through the first four posts on this blog.  Now, I'm going to ask you to tell me about yours.  Fair enough?

This post will have some legs to it.  It's going to have a life of itself, I feel.  Because the subject is going to be communication. We're going to start with the old fashioned form, the letter.  You remember that don't you?.  You'd take out a piece of paper...write some real syruppy thoughts, put a stamp on it, stick it in an envelope and take it to the mailbox or post office.  Oh, to yearn for yesterday.  So without further adieu, here they are!!!!....the Box Tops with their famous hit....."My Baby She Wrote Me A Letter".

Give me a ticket for an aeroplane,
Ain't got time to take a fast train.
Lonely days are gone, I'm a-goin' home,
'Cause my baby just a-wrote me a letter.

I don't care how much money I gotta spend,
Got to get back to my baby again
Lonely days are gone, I'm a-goin' home,
'Cause my baby just a-wrote me a letter.

Well, she wrote me a letter
Said she couldn't live without me no mo'.
Listen mister can't you see I got to get back
To my baby once a-mo'--anyway...

Gimme a ticket for an aeroplane,
Ain't got time to take a fast train.
Lonely days are gone, I'm a-goin' home,
'Cause my baby just a-wrote me a letter.

For those of you too young to remember, this was a hit song released in 1967.  Rolling Stone listed it #363 on a list of the top 500 songs of all-time.  You're kidding right?  No, I'm not.....and I think the biggest reason why, is that it spoke to the feelings of many people who were apart and longed to connect again.  And the letter was the way to do it.  But today there is so much available technology-wise.  There is the cellphone, texting, Twitter, Facebook and of course, Skype.  But you still can't beat the old letter.  There is still tremendous "value" in the written word.  Just how much.  Well that's what we're going to find out. 

Here's your challenge, mission or assignment, any way you want to term it.  I need you to tell me about your favorite military letter.  It can be as personal or non-personal as you want it to be. Send your information through the comment portion of the blog.  If you need me to contact you, just put your proper information for connecting with you. As I mentioned when we first started this blog, we are going to talk about the joys and the sorrows and everything in-between.  I believe this is a good place to start.  Sure, we'll dive into the other social devices at another point, but for now,  it's the Letter.  I'm going to leave this post with a song from Mark Schultz, "Letters from War".  Enjoy.

YGG,
John
video


Tuesday, October 26, 2010

THE MOLDERS OF MEN AND WOMEN

I wanted to be a sportswriter when I grew up.  I loved sports of all kinds.  I loved reading about sports, loved watching sports...I just couldn't get enough sports.  That's all I ever wanted to be, a sportswriter.   I remember telling my 9th grade English teacher, Mrs. Allen, what I wanted to be.  That was a mistake.  "John, you'll need to improve alot to be a writer.  You don't know the difference between a noun and a verb.  You need to know your English", she said.  Gosh, that made me mad.  I disliked English anyway.

I've never forgotten that day.  Who did she think she was to squash my dream?  "I'll show her", I thought.  Truth is, I thought alot more things about Mrs. Allen that day, but I'll leave that be.  The other truth is,  that she was right.  I don't know my English very well.  Today, I sit here, still wondering what the heck a dangling participle has to do with anything. But I found a way that works.  Ever hear of journalese? The definition of journalese is "a style of writing characteristic of newspapers or magazines, distinguished by triteness in thought". When I found this language it was like music to my ears. I didn't need to have all that English stuff in a sentence.  I knew how to express myself.....and years later, I did realize that job she questioned me pursuing.  Actually, I got something more..first job out of school, Sports Editor.  For the Albert Lea Tribune in Albert Lea, Minnesota.  Here's to you Mrs. Allen and to all the other squashers of dreams.

Now, as I look back.....my dream should have been to become a Man, not a sportswriter, first. Start with that ingredient.  A man that is responsible, loving, caring and nurturing.  I went the other way first, thinking that in becoming a sportswriter, I would have an identity.  If I had gone the man route, the one I now know God wants me to become, life wouldn't have been so difficult.  It has taken me years and years to learn the principles I described above.  And I'm still learning.  The great thing is that I get a chance to keep learning and understanding what makes a man. A Real Man.

Our family attends church at Lutheran Church of Hope in West Des Moines.  Our pastor, Mike Housholder, has been instructing us in recent weeks on "Dream Giver",  a book written by Bruce Wilkinson.  "Preacher Boy', as he affectionately calls himself on occasion, made the point this past weekend that the church, the physical size itself  (yes, it's that huge building on 75th and Ashworth in West Des Moines)  was not something he dreamed about.  Instead, it was the work that he was doing within the building.  Transforming lives, helping mold people.  That's what his dream was and is.     

I think back to July when our son Jonathan was waffling on his National Guard commitment.  He was confused, scared and frankly at a point in his life, that he needed some good mentoring.  I recall a meeting, my wife, I  and J had with Major Doug Houston.  For two hours, Major Houston listened to J as he told his "side" of the story.  How others had made him feel stupid in making a decision to join the military.   J didn't think he was ready on so many levels.  As a father, I knew different.  And as a molder.....so did Major Houston.  During this two hour session,  I saw in Major Houston a man full of compassion.  He wasn't short and to the point.  He had the patience of Job.  Through it all, he was molding.  Helping our son make the right choice at the right time in his life....but most importantly, helping him make the choice himself.

Weeks later after J went off to Basic, I asked him a fatherly type question.  "So how did everyone handle the first couple of days at Fort Knox?  Anyone think they had made a bad decision?"  Not missing a beat, he responded, " Oh yeah, we all did.  And there were alot of tears".  I got a chuckle out of that, and if I had let myself, it probably could have turned into a belly-laugh.  It wouldn't have been a matter of laughing at J and his fellow soldiers, but laughing with them....knowing that this was all part of the process.

I wonder what their reaction would be today?  When the graduation exercise ended there was a mad rush from all the families to see their sons.  The image will forever be ingrained in my mind and in my wife's mind when we locked eyes with our son for the first time in 10 weeks. The change was.....was................was......I can't put one word to it.  In mid-August, we had seen a young 18-year old off....and now he was a Man.  A complete transformation.  You could see it in his eyes, you could hear it in his speech and you could sense it in his walk.  The morning after graduation, J texted to thank me for coming to his graduation and for being there at "the best day of his life".  THE BEST DAY OF HIS LIFE.  He might not taken the popular road according to his friends, but he took the right one.
PV2 Jonathan Kelling


We owe so much of this change to Major Houston.  I've run into he and his wife, Angela, several times at church.  Oh, did I tell you, that when we finished our July meeting, I made some "church" comment and from that we found out that the Houston's also attend Lutheran Church of Hope.  My wife and I had prayed for the Lord to place us with a compassionate man that would show J the way. And look what He provided.


I've tried numerous times and in different ways to thank Major Houston for what he did for our family that day.  I'm not sure that he's ever said anything other than, "good" in his response before moving on to some other topic.  I'm sure part of this nonchalance is that Major Houston sees his role as a good and faithful servant.  And he is....and he is also transforming lives....as a molder of our young Men and Women helping them realize their dreams.  And for that, you deserve a bigger than life Thank You, Sir!    

YGG,

John         

Monday, October 25, 2010

THE LONG ROAD AHEAD

Just how long is the road ahead for the soldiers and families and friends of the Iowa deployed?

Well, that's a great question.  With no easy answer.  How could there be? You can't take 3,000 Soldiers, representing the largest Iowa troop deployment since World War II.....assign them to various different regions of Afghanistan and expect the experiences to be the same.  And then there is our diversity.  So many of those affected are from different walks of life.  I don't even have to go into the many ways that we are different.  We just are.  Yet through this, we are all part of a team, much like our soldiers came to realize back in Basic Training days.

Let me go back to last week if I may.  My wife, Joanne, and youngest son, Jordan, and I traveled to Fort Knox, Kentucky to attend the graduation of our middle son, Jonathan. It was a glorious day to see J complete his training. The day was full of irony both in celebration and sadness. Coupled with this great, great day for one son, was also a completely different feeling for another.  At the very time J was receiving his "soldierization", our oldest son, Kris was aloft in the jet streams.  His destination was a refueling stop in the States, followed by departure for somewhere near Afghanistan..  The entire family knew the door was quickly closing.  Kris' last phone call to us was nearing and then he'd be .........
 
Gone. Just like that. And more than likely headed for some lengthy blackout time (a time when there is no contact from a soldier to family or friends). Where was he headed?  "Really no idea, dad", he said. He mentioned some mid-point stops, but those were all just guesses.The day had come for Kris to leave.  This after a slew of texts, emails, phone calls and Facebook posts in the preceding weeks. The general nature of those contacts were love, pride, staying safe and keeping God close.  And they weren't always in that order.  When the last call came from Kris to say that the plane was refueled and they were just about to take off we were driving around Fort Knox seeing where J had his 10-week Basic experience.  So Kris is on the phone talking departure and J is giving directions to where to go next at the Fort.   Can you picture the scene?  Four people in a Chevy Avalanche and everyone is trying to talk.  Somehow we muddled through that as each one of us took our turn to say a final goodbye.  At the other end of the cell-phone, was a young man taking the biggest step of his young life down the biggest road imaginable.

 I'm sure we didn't do the setting justice. Way to many interferences.  Which is pretty common for most of us anymore.  I wonder what Kris thought as he boarded that plane.  Did he feel that emotionally we let him down?  I know we didn't hit a homerun that day.  We didn't drive the ball out of the park with one specific comment that he'd take with him.  However, I think if you were to ask any of us in the truck that day...we hit alot of singles in the previous weeks.  We told him we loved him, over, and over and over again.  We might have even discovered some new way to say it without saying it. 

Later on that morning,  J took us to a set of hills used by his company for training purposes.  Here recruits "honed" their marching and endurance skills. To hear him tell of the hill climbs with nearly 100 pounds of pack, body armor, rifle, helmet, boots and uniform affixed to their body was jaw-dropping. 100 pounds!  Imagine two lines of 120 members of Delta Company trudging up aptly named hills in single file.  It was truly a test, one they made on a 95 degree August day. "Left, left, left, right, left, here we go again. Same old stuff again", they shouted.  Over and over again up that mile long incline.  Each of the hills had their uniqueness, not only in name, but in their difficulty. The first was named Agony. There echoed the voices of thousands of wannabe soldiers who had marched that road.  You could sense what had taken place here. You could visualize the sweat, the anger, the disappointment and the longing for a day when this hill was in the past.  I'm sure there was every type of motivation used to endure this physical torture.  J told us he used to look at the boots ahead of him and visualize his older brother setting the pace for him. One step at a time...up the hill and to the top.  That got him through it all.
 
The next day on our trip back to Johnston, Iowa I was looking at my Bible for something that God could teach me that would put much of this Kentucky experience into perspective.  And here is what jumped out at me.  "Agony is waiting".  I know it's in Ecclesiastes as I write this, but I can't find where. I just know it's there.  "Agony is waiting."  I'm sure many soldiers can relate to that as they think back to Fort Knox or the various other Forts around the country that serve as Training Centers. These hills serve a purpose.  It's where the transformation takes place from civilian to solider.  Irresponsible to responsible, lacking in respect to respect and so on.  At the same time, every soldier came to realize that "waiting is agony", too. Waiting and counting the days until they'd be done with Basic.  45. 44. 32. 22 and right down the line to the day they'd graduate and say, good riddance to Basic.  I think back to the three hills on the Kentucky base and the significance they have.  You've already met Agony.  Then there is Misery.  Like in Misery is waiting......and Waiting is Misery.  And then the biggest of all, Heartbreak.  Heartbreak is waiting....and in waiting there is Heartbreak.

So have I answered the question of what lies ahead?  Somewhat.  We all want to see what's at the top of the hill or around the bend.  We want to be able to see what the future holds.  We don't want any agony, misery or heartbreak.  Joy, peace and love sounds so much better.  For the 3,000 plus spouses, the 5,000 Iowa school children and the countless number of families and friends who are affected by this Guard Deployment, the next 9 months will be chalk full of uncertainties.  But in the waiting and the Agony.....the Misery....and Heartbreak there is also HOPE. Yes, at the hilltop and around the bend, is Hope. A little four letter word that can move mountains...and hills and roads, even the LONG ROADS.  And it won't end there.

YGG,  John      

                   
MISERY (the Hill)  LOVES COMPANY,  BUT DELTA COMPANY MIGHT NOT FEEL THE SAME WAY





Sunday, October 24, 2010

ABOUT MY FATHER'S VOICE AND YGG

ABOUT MFV

The essay that I submitted to the Des Moines Register on Tuesday October 19th on "As Iowa Guard Deploys, How Many Tears Are Left?" appeared in the Sunday Editorial page on October 24th.  The initial reaction was inspiring to say the least.  But why should I be surprised?  I'm just the instrument in this matter.  Your texts, emails and phone calls of encouragement prompted this......"My Father's Voice."

The words, the concept and timing of the launch of this blog are certainly not mine. I was just ambling down the road with a sign attached to my back that read, "Slow Person Ahead." However, as I look back, God has been preparing me for some time. Educating me, pruning me and helping me understand his world.

 It all began on that Tuesday  morning at 5 o'clock when I woke up.  I started thinking about our oldest son deploying to Afghanistan.  First came the emotions....then the thoughts and then came a call to action like I've never felt before.  BAM....I hit the keyboard on the computer and started pounding away.  A half hour later I sent my "letter" to the Register and reflected.  Gosh what just took place?

I heard nothing the remainder of that day.  The next morning I looked at my email inbox and there was a message from Linda Fandel, the Editorial Page Editor at the Register.  She had a one sentence reply asking if I had submitted this essay to any other publication.  I responded back, "no, should I?"  And then thought, so be it....the road will open up some place else if they say no.  Moments later, the phone rang and Linda asked if they could run the story.  Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhh, sure.  Let's go for it.  I must say that Linda is my angel in this whole story.  Her place in this entire situation was profound.  Circumstance, not on your life. 

So here we are.

Thank you to those that have responded that the first story has caused them to stop and reflect...and yes, even shed a few tears. The "pain" that many people could relate to in the first posting is not mine alone. Thousands of families are affected, some more and some less. But most importantly, there are stories out there that will challenge your spirit and change you in ways you never thought possible. And with your help and God's direction, we can bring them to light.

That's what "My Father's Voice" will be about.  We are going to navigate the joys and sorrows of life and talk about them.  And we are going to discuss this in a conversational manner.  Just imagine having a conversation with your father here on earth and your father in heaven. Just dialoguing, talking...rapping (did I date myself?) Oh well....  

If you like the concept, tell a friend the blog address.  Our next topic will be "The Long Road Ahead" (what's up for the families and friends of an Iowa Solider as they deploy to Afghanistan).

YGG

Now we need some type of sign off.  A reflective couple of words that says something and means something. I must say, here is where I feel, as a male, that we've gotten short-changed.  Women have their, "You Go Girl."  And it says alot.  Us men, hmmmmmmmmmmm, "You Go Boy", doesn't do it.  "You Go Dude"....nah.  "You Go Guy".....sounds well, less than appealing.  Say it.  You Go Guy.  Now faster.  YOU GO GUY.  Faster...and now Faster.  A little hard to say, don't you think?  Actually it might be a good brand name for a power tool, that Tim "Tool Time" Taylor could promote.  Ruuuuuuuuuuuuuuummmmmmmmm!!! .

Okay, I know I've gotten off point here, but I think you get the idea.  You know, I think I'll just go with something simple, but strong.  YGG.  Yup, YGG.  "You Go God".  Now, we're off and running.

YGG,

John

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

DEPLOYMENT AND 96 TEARS


A tear drop hit my pillow last night as I lay awake …..followed moments later by a second and a third.  The last one was a long, streaming one, which I think had a more profound significance than the others.    Certainly this was the one that forced me to choke back a real melt down.

It has been two and a half months since I had really let my emotions come forth.  It was tough saying goodbye to my oldest son, Kristopher, that day at the Boone campus.  He along with some 100 other National Guardsman boarded 4 busses and headed off to Camp Shelby in Mississippi.  It was a day unlike any other I had known.  Families being stretched to the greatest of emotional lengths.  Some said goodbye to husbands, others to wives,  son and daughters.   There were young spouses no doubt left with the responsibility of trying to  explain what was going on and why mommy or daddy was leaving on a bus with a whole lot of other people.  Another young lady,  looking to give birth within a month or so, tried to hold back tears.  She wasn’t doing a very good job, but who was I to talk.  Yet, looking around me, I could only think of how each of our lives would become different.  Yes, our tears were real that day……..

Last night though, my tears were different.  They were bigger and they came out of nowhere.   And they were  much different than the ones back on July 30th.   And they are different again today as I try to put my feelings down with words that don’t do justice.  Justice for me, my family and all the other men and women and their friends and families who are experiencing their loved one deploying to Afghanistan.  Today, when my son leaves, and in the following weeks more than 3,000 Iowa Guardsman will be leaving our safe shores to DEPLOY.  Not train, but deploy.

 What does deploy mean? I had to look it up to make sure.  Google had a short definition which stated, “to move into a position of readiness or availability.”   Okay…that makes sense.  Yet, I feel there is one important word that was  left out.  REAL.  There will be Real bullets and a Real enemy for REAL.  And it’s all for Real life and real death in a region that I‘m still trying to get my mind wrapped around.  Is Afghanistan all that important?   Are we fighting on level terms?  Those questions alone are enough to make a person tear up.  

So as you can see,  my tears have been different.  They were a “safe” tear when I knew my son was here in our country preparing for his duty.   Now, it’s the furthest thing from that.  Safe tears  have been replaced by  scared tears, followed by proud tears followed by scared tears.

It goes without saying, that I have come to a greater appreciation for our military and our country through this whole deployment process.   Men and women have taken to their responsibility and  are making all Iowans proud.  I won’t kid you, it’s going to be a long 9 months.   What do my future tears hold in store for me?  Will it be for someone who has a solider wounded?  Or will it be for one killed in action?  I can’t even think of going there.

It has been said that tears are good for the soul.  It’s our reaction to an experience.  It has an awful lot to do with living, I think.   If you’ve seldom let your emotions or experiences taken you there, then today, think about those whose lives will be challenged from every angle possible.   An old sixties song, “96 Tears” sure comes to mind right now.  “Cry, cry, cry…96 tears, tears for the warm hearted, 96 tears.”  How many tears do I have left?  I don’t really know, but  I do know this.   The shortest and sweetest verse in the Bible is…. ‘‘Jesus wept.”   Puts it all in perspective, don’t you think?