A Parris Island Graduation

We had just celebrated New Years.  I was excited to say goodbye to 2018, a year of being pregnant and recovering from being pregnant.  I had spent most of the year feeling my worst, but trying my best to be more active.

And here I was, bright and early on the second day of 2019, starting out on a road trip to Parris Island, South Carolina.  Amazing!

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“This is going to be a great year!” I thought to myself as I watched the scenery go by, as we crossed the border of Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, and then South Carolina.  I was happy as the temperatures got noticeably warmer.  I remained optimistic even when the southern humidity turned my hair into a frizzy puff ball.

I was with Chris and our oldest daughter, Areli (19 years old) and our youngest daughter Aria (4 months old) driving down to attend the Marine Graduation of our firstborn son, Cole.  We were also traveling with Cole’s girlfriend, Amy and her mom, Valarie.  We were making good time even with nursing Aria every 3-4 hours.  We were close to our rental home, but we had to stop for supper.  We found a local diner with southern comfort food.  No bright and fresh vegetables, but plenty of the fried variety.  It felt almost too stereotypical to be true: the friendly waitress with the charming southern drawl giving directions to the toothless gentleman, “Turn at the big tree, past the single-wide, to the double-wide where my mama lives.”

The next morning we awoke early, but we could hardly sleep anyway.  It was the day that we would see our Marine for the first time in three months.  I had to rise at 4:30 to get myself ready and feed the baby. Even though we got on the base at 6:30, we realized that we were a bit late, and the parking lot was almost full.  We hurried out to try and find a good spot along the street.  At 7:00am the Motivational Run would start, and we wanted to catch a glimpse of Cole as he ran past.

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We could see the famous sign over the Blvd de France that said, “WE MAKE MARINES” and our excitement mounted!  Soon we heard something but couldn’t see anything.  Was it recruits doing PT?  Or was it our Marines getting closer?  First to come marching down the street was a small band that Areli nicknamed, “The Side Band.” A lively and talented group of brass musician and drummers danced and marched and interacted with the crowd.

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I learned later that they were all master musicians who joined the Marines just to be in their band.  Soon we heard a military cadence being called out by hundreds of young Marines.

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We could hardly contain our excitement at this point.  Camera and phones were out.  We watched the guidons carefully.  First the lead platoons would pass…1000…1001…

There was 1002!  Cole’s Platoon.  I strained my eyes.  Then in the middle of all the green and shaved heads…I think….I see…

“There’s Cole!  Cole!!!!  Yeah!!!!  I see him!” I yelled like a crazy person.  I saw Cole’s head perk up ever so slightly and in his eyes was a look of recognition.  He was not allowed to break formation in any way, but he had seen us!

The others couldn’t spot him, so we waited until they all ran past again.  This time everyone could see him, strong and proud, running like it was no big deal.  When “The Side Band” passed us again we realized something.  We didn’t know where to go or what to do next.  By the time we followed the crowds of people who were congregating across the street, we were at the back of the line.  We found out that it was the line to get into the All-Weather Training Facility were the Liberty Ceremony would be held…in two hours!

The security was very strict so it took a long time to get into the building.  We couldn’t all find seats.  Areli, Amy, and I squeezed into the tight bleachers.  Chris just stood in the back with the baby. I had to exit to use the restrooms (which we soon realized, were not one of the top priorities of the Parris Island hospitality committee).  When I returned, the doors were being closed because all the seats were full, still an hour before the ceremony.

I knew that Family Day and was a big deal, but I didn’t realize how BIG it was!

Family and friends had traveled to be here. Whether alone or in groups of up to 30, they came from all over the world to see their beloved receive one of the highest honors; the title of United States Marine.

Time ticked on as we watched Marine promotional videos.  Finally a Marine in charge told Chris he could take Aria and sit in the front row, in a handicap spot that hadn’t been filled.  I joined him.  It was amazing that God worked that out for us!  Next to us was sitting the wife and three young children of one of Cole’s DIs.  Again, I was amazed.  DIs have wives?  They have adorable little children?! I prayed that Aria would be a good little baby and not go into one of her crying fits during the ceremony.

Right on time one of the large doors was opened.  A single Marine sang out a Cadence as the DIs and Platoons marched in perfect formation.  Platoon 1002 stopped right in front of us, but I couldn’t see Cole.

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The talking seemed to last forever.  Finally Liberty was announced and the room erupted into chaos.  It took a while for Cole to find us.  He looked so good, confident and strong.  I hugged him and couldn’t speak for the lump in my throat.

We spent the next 4 hours and 45 minutes walking around the base, talking, asking questions, eating, shopping, and taking in the museum.  There was so much we wanted to know and so little time.  Cole seemed relaxed and happy to answer our questions.

He told us stories that made us laugh and stories that made us wonder in amazement.

He had made it through!  He was still alive and still human, but now more mature, wiser.  He could joke about his suffering and smile and greet other new Marines.

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Marines are always early, so Cole made sure he was back at the Parade Deck well before Liberty was over.  I nursed the baby in the van while the others watched the Graduation Practice.  We spent the rest of our day relaxing at our rental home.  We enjoyed the porch and the beautiful view.  South Carolina really is lovely, if you don’t mind all the frizzy hair.

We decided that we absolutely HAD to get on the base earlier for Graduation Day.  When Aria woke me up at 3:30 am the next morning, there was no point in going back to sleep.  But it was worth it!  We got on the base by 5:30 and Areli and Amy began to wait in line.  The rest of us waited in the van with the sleeping baby.  After a while Valarie and Chris got out to wait in line as well.  At 7:30 they were finally opening the security check points and allowing people into the bleachers.  Still, the ceremony didn’t start until 9, so I thought I would let the baby sleep.  I nursed her in the van around 8 and Chris called me saying, “Get in here as soon as you can.  We are trying to save you a seat but they keep telling us to move closer together to make more room. It is filling up fast.”

I grabbed the diaper bag, my purse, and the baby and walked to the closest metal detector.  By this time the line was very short, and Aria and I got to our seats in no time.  Wow, there were a lot of people!  And packed in so close together, you felt like you were sitting in your neighbor’s lap.  It was a friendly crowd, and I began to talk with the ladies in front of me.  One had come from New York to see her nephew graduate.  Another had come with 20 other family members from Georgia to see her grandson.  We talked about boot camp, our hopes and our fears, and the goodness of God. Tears were coming already and the ceremony hadn’t even started yet! The overflow bleachers were filling up and people who didn’t get a seat were standing.

 I looked out at the crowd and was struck by the amount of love it represented.

I thought about the mother originally from South Africa who traveled with her daughter and grandson.  I remembered the woman in front of me in line explaining how she didn’t sleep a wink during the crucible.  She had stayed up with her candles lit, praying for her great-grandson.  I recalled the sweet young girlfriend from Michigan, alive with giddy excitement at the Liberty Ceremony.  Brothers and sisters holding banners at the Motto Run, women running and embracing their Marines at Liberty, and family members decked out in matching shirts filled my mind.  Now I was surveying the thousands lining the Parade Deck who had taken time off of work and gladly paid the expense to be here.  What love!

I was so glad that I was here!

Part of the thousands,

part of the love,

part of this little piece of Parris Island history,

part of this huge piece of MY SON’S history.

The ceremony was very impressive, full of military marching and orders.  (I don’t have a military background so please forgive my rudimentary and perhaps inaccurate descriptions.) First came the “Main Band” we called it, not to be confused with the “Side Band.”  To watch them march with their instruments was rather like watching close order drills done with slide trombones rather than rifles.  There was the parade master, a woman with an incredible voice that could be heard from one end of the Parade Deck to the other.  There were many commanding officers and two generals.  The mascot of the Marines, a cute bulldog, made an appearance.  When the platoons came marching in, their skill was amazing!  We caught a glimpse of Cole!

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                There were orders called out, awards given, accolades received, and cannons fired!  I had two favorite moments of the ceremony.

First was when I watched my son’s platoon all take a stance in perfect unison, bringing their heels together with one thunderous clap.  Second was when a commanding officer said, “Good Morning!” and over 600 Marines answered him with one voice that seemed to shake the earth.

Finally each platoon was given the order to go on leave and Cole was free!  Free for 10 days!  We gave hugs and congratulations.  We took pictures.  We were bursting with pride!

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We met some of Cole’s friends.  We picked up the last of his bags and saw his squad bay. Cole was anxious to get off of the base and start his leave.  We all had so much to talk about, so many things to do with him, and so many favorite foods to prepare!  But for the moment, we seemed a bit dazed.  It felt like a dream; the culmination of over a year of praying, preparing, and training.

Our son had truly earned the title:

United States Marine!

Will I See My Papa Again?

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It was a warm summer night and the sun had not yet set.  My brother and I were hanging out with our friends at the close of our youth group meeting.  Our youth pastor, Bryan, came up to us and said, “Your mom is in the office and wants to see you.”

That was very unusual.  My mom didn’t attend our church and she never came on a Wednesday night.  When we entered Bryan’s office, Mom told us that we had to call our grandfather, “Papa” as we called him.  He lived in Wisconsin and we only saw him and our Grammy twice a year; at Christmas and during summer vacation.  We loved them dearly, yet I didn’t understand why mom had driven all the way into the city to make sure that we called him on the church telephone.

“Your Papa is going into surgery early tomorrow morning, and I wanted you to talk to him before that,” Mom explained.

With the excitement of the approaching summer vacation and my graduation from High School, I had completely forgotten that Papa was scheduled to get a hip replacement.  He was in his eighties but still seemed fairly young to me.  He and Grammy loved to go hiking, yet in recent years his hip pain had made even walking very difficult for him.  The past summer, Papa didn’t breathe a word about his pain, yet I saw him trembling and breathing with slow, shaky breaths whenever he sat down or got up again.  Grammy was anxious to get back to their active lifestyle and urged him to get the hip replaced.

I wasn’t worried about his surgery.  He had gotten his other hip done a few years back, and it seemed rather routine.  I took the phone and told him that I loved him and hoped his surgery went well.  I thought my mom had been silly to insist upon this call. After all, we would see him in person soon.

That was the last time I ever had the opportunity to talk to my Papa, and how thankful I am now for that phone conversation and my mom’s intuition.  Days later we learned that something had gone wrong after the surgery, a nasty infection.  Papa’s vital signs went haywire, and he was about to die.  The doctors were doing everything they could to stabilize him.  In the scary chaos, they asked Grammy if they should put Papa on life support.  She looked at the love of her life, the man she adored, her partner for more than 63 years.  She saw him dying and thought the doctors were asking her if they should save his life or let him die.  Of course she chose to save his life.

She told me later that she didn’t understand what life support really meant.  If she had known at the time that it meant hooking her beloved husband up to all sorts of tubes and equipment, keeping his body alive in a sort of artificial limbo state; she never would have agreed to it.

Yet there he was, in the hospital bed, being sustained by machines.  Grammy’s heart was broken and so were ours.  Everything had changed.  No more hiking trips.  No more happy summer vacations listening to Papa’s funny stories.  No more Christmases with my grandfather and his white hair all mussed up from getting out of bed so early in the morning.

There could be a miracle.  I believed in miracles and I prayed for a miracle for Papa.  I thought about what a precious man he was.  He had met Grammy when he was 21 and Grammy was only 16.  He walked her home from the ice skating rink and never had eyes for another girl.  They waited 10 years to get married so they could save money to build a house.

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Harold and La Vera Gisselman on their wedding day

That adorable house was still their home and one of my favorite places in the world.  To read more about my memories, read my article, “The Term is Over” and “Happy 100th Birthday Grammy.”

He was called into the army during WWII, but never left the United States thanks to his excellent typing skills. That was a very good thing, because during that time, my mother was conceived!

Harold and Dana

After the war, he began working at a bank as a teller and worked his way to becoming the bank president.  He was known by many of the people in the small city of Wausau, and was affectionately called “Chick” even though his name was Harold.  He was always easy with conversation and jokes and was great fun to be around.

He was a very honorable man and attended a Methodist church.  He didn’t talk much about his faith.  In fact, when I had a life-altering salvation experience at the age of 14 and started attending a Charismatic church, he didn’t seem that interesting in talking about it.  I wondered if he really had a relationship with Jesus.  Had he ever asked Jesus to forgive his sins and take him to heaven?  I didn’t know.  The thought of never seeing my Papa again terrified me.

That week I graduated from High School.  The graduation ceremony was lovely.  I had some of my closest friends back to my house afterwards to celebrate.  We stayed up most of the night, talking.  There is so much to talk about when you are on the verge of the rest of your life; with missions trips, college, and careers all on the horizon.

Then we got into a circle, grabbed hands, and began to pray.  We prayed for each other, prayed for our futures.  Then I began to pray for my Papa.

“God, I ask that you would do a miracle and heal Papa.  If he doesn’t know you, Jesus, DON’T LET HIM DIE!  Heal him and speak to him and let him know your love.  If he does know you, if he is going to heaven, then let him die.  I don’t want him to have to suffer indefinitely, unable to talk or really live.  If he is saved, please take him to heaven,” I prayed.

I looked up at the clock and it said 2:30am.  It was time to wrap up this party.  My friends returned home and I fell asleep in my living room, curled up on the recliner.

In the morning my mom gently shook my shoulder.  “Last night your Papa died,” she said.

I was so sleepy, that I didn’t respond except to let out a sad, “Ohhhhhh.” Then I rolled over and went back to sleep.  I couldn’t explain the peace that I felt.  My mom expected me to be quite distraught, and she hated to give me the news on the day after I graduated.

Later, when I was fully awake, I asked my mom, “What time did Papa die?”

“It was 1:30am,” she answered.

My heart sank.  He died before I had prayed that prayer.  I didn’t have any assurance that I would see my Papa again.

Then I remembered.  Papa had passed away at 1:30am Wisconsin time.  That was 2:30am our time here in Pennsylvania, the exact time that I had asked Jesus to carry him to heaven!

 

A Bedroom Makeover that took 18 years (and a Mother’s thoughts on the graduation of her firstborn)

I have been dreaming about decorating a little girl’s room for some time now…18 years to be exact.  When I was pregnant with my first child, we didn’t know the gender of the baby.  We chose a neutral Noah’s Ark bedroom set to put on our baby registry.  Our baby girl seemed to be delighted with her bedroom.  This also worked for our next baby, a boy who was born 18 months later.  Areli and Cole shared a room and the animals in muted colors worked great for them.

However, when Areli turned three she became a big girl almost overnight.  She was totally potty-trained and moved into a big bed.  As I searched for the perfect comforter set, I began to dream of decorating a room for her.  Perhaps soon we would move to a bigger home and Areli could have her own room, a GIRL’S room!

I found a lovely comforter and sheet set called, “Mariposa.”  It had butterflies on a purple and yellow back ground.  For the next few years I played with decorating ideas.  I would paint imaginary walls in my mind, first bright yellow, then lavender.  I would experiment with different colors of curtains.  I decided that I would frame the adorable Anne Geddes baby butterflies in white frames and put them up all over the walls.   The most beautiful little girl’s room began to take shape, and I was so proud of myself.  Areli was going to be thrilled!

The years passed and we never did get a home big enough to give Areli her own room.  We never had the time or money to paint walls and decorate, and then we rented for several years.  Boring white walls became the norm for us.

Finally we moved into our own home and Areli got the largest bedroom…to share with two brothers.  Eventually the brothers moved out and a sister moved in.  There was even a baby in there a few times.  Yet we never seemed able to patch the cracking walls and paint over the dull and faded yellow.

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I still held on to my dream of a purple and yellow room for Areli.  However, Areli was now growing up and developing her own dreams.  I realized that purple, yellow, and butterflies had nothing to do with her dreams.  She preferred green, blue, horses, football, and photography.  She had developed tastes that were totally different from mine!  How did this happen?

This is all that is left of my dreams.

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A picture that is being stored in the attic and faded old sheets that used to be purple.

This year Areli turned 18.  She has grown into a beautiful and capable young woman.  She is so very like me, yet so totally different.

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She has different tastes in books, movies, clothes, and interior decorating.  She still loves green and blue and football and photography.  She helps so much around our home.  She loves and serves her family everyday with grace and endurance.

It was finally time for a bedroom makeover – ARELI STYLE!

Chris had a week off of work right around Areli’s 18th birthday.  He spent much of it fixing her walls, painting, and hanging window treatments and decorations.

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Areli picked the color “Electric Lime.”  When I saw it on the wall for the first time I thought, “Oh my!  Was that really what Areli wanted?”

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SHE LOVES IT!  Her dream had become a reality!  Now she has the perfect girl’s room in which to do her school work, hang out, and rest.  She still has to share it with a younger sister, but I think she feels like it is finally truly a room for HER, designed by her.

Areli graduates from High School in less than two weeks.  She has worked ahead and has already finished all of her classes with straight As.  She is going to work on her photography over the summer and get a job in the fall.  Her plan is to attend a Discipleship Training School with Youth With a Mission the following year.  I am excited for her!  The sky is the limit and the possibilities are endless.  With all the missions organizations all over the world, she could do anything and go anywhere.  Her future potential is boundless!

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However, all this is very sad for a mom.  When I think about my home without Areli in it, I just want to cry.  How will I make it without her?  She helps me so much with all the household duties and taking care of the younger children.  More importantly, she is a wonderful friend, an oasis of womanly wisdom in a sea of boys.  She is the person who always understands me.  She is my companion when Chris is working long hours.

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The other day I had a precious hour of free time before bed.  I decided to spend it connecting with God, sitting on the love-seat in my bedroom.  I was going to read and pray and write in my journal.  When I entered, I found Areli sitting on my love seat, reading a book that I had always loved, and taking notes in her journal.  I felt my heart swell with joy as I realized something.  Areli had fully absorbed all I have tried to teach her.  She has heeded my instruction, and she has also watched my life and followed my example.  She has taken ownership of her faith and she deliberately seeks out truth.  She has worked to learn and remember what is important.

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She is so much like me yet so different from me…and so much better.  My ceiling is her foundation.  She is strong and mature…and almost ready to fly.

I want to whoop and holler in excitement for Areli…the successful efforts of my mothering!  I want to curl up in a ball and sob for the same reason…for the beautiful “Electric Lime” room that will soon be half-way empty and for the vacant place in my heart.

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I am so glad that we finally gave Areli that bedroom makeover that I had always been planning…even if it did take 18 years.  Secretly I am hoping it might help her to stay a little longer, and beckon her to return to this safe haven again and again and again.