Wednesday, February 4, 2015

A Legacy of Sacrifice

Kneeling in the grass, beside a lichen-covered tombstone, I saw a middle-aged woman. Her hands, worn, though not wrinkled, caressed the cold stone, and tears left salty trails down her cheeks. I walked closer. The stone had been abandoned for years, it seemed. The trees never trimmed, any flowers planted had long since died of neglect. The grass, though overgrown, was not wholly unkempt. I scanned the clearing, looking for any clues as to why this woman was here.
I was shocked to recognize, on the other side of the woman on the ground, was a freshly dug grave. Behind me, I heard hushed voices coming down the quiet, woodsy trail. I ducked behind the nearest Oak, and watched.
~*~*~
Henry ran across the beach, his boots sinking in the wet sand as he fought to gain ground. Bullets sprayed the sand around him. Some hit the men to his right and left. A few of those fell to the sand, screaming out in agony; still more pushed on with him, shouting encouragement to others, calling out to those that fell behind. The sound of their voices was almost completely drowned out by the combined cacophony of the boats as they pulled away from the shore, the popping of the small arms fire, and the loud booming of the artillery up on the hill.
Ducking at the sound of an incoming mortar, Henry then threw himself down to the ground and scrambled for cover. He shoved himself forward on his knees and elbows, struggling to keep his weapon out of the moist grit. He curled up behind a tangled coil of barbed wire and prayed that the next shot wouldn’t find him.
Recon teams had counted six artillery dugouts along this stretch of beach. Henry and the others near him waiting for all six to fire, then got up and ran farther up the beach, pressing onward toward the tree line.
~*~*~
I walked closer. Sgt. Henry O’Mara. The name was inscribed, above a set of dates. I ran a quick calculation in my head. Why…that’s not even twenty years! The second date, I noticed, matched today’s date – seventy years earlier.
A breeze glided through the leaves on the trees, bouncing her lightly greying brunette curls atop her head, and I took another step closer. Her lips were moving, but I didn’t hear any sound coming out.
~*~*~
“Go, go, go!” Henry shouted, waving his men to follow him into the darkness. “This is the last bunker!” He rounded the first corner and came face-to-face with a German artillery gunner
When the group reached the end, they took a moment to revel in the small victory before they went back out to re-join the fight. Henry selected three men to stay behind and maintain the new position, all from his own hometown in Tennessee, and then led the others back to the beach where many men were still fighting to hold ground.
Winding their way through the foliage to find the beach once more, Henry and his men spread out and combed the landscape for any Germans meaning to ambush them.
A rustle in the branches above and to his right called Henry’s attention to a small group of soldiers hiding in the trees. He called to the man nearest him, and gestured to the trees. A wild shot rang out, and the projectile flew wide of its target. The Germans above noticed the Americans, then, and a cacophony of indistinguishable words broke forth. Many of them seemed to have dropped their weapons in the haste to climb to safety. Several other firearms fell to the ground after the first interaction between the two sides.
Henry instructed his men to hold their fire – they would not engage unarmed soldiers. He waved the Germans down from their perches, gesturing that they were surrounded. It seemed to him that they might as well save everyone some time, and just go ahead and surrender.
After a fair amount more shouting at each other, in their own native language, not understanding a single word that the other party said, the Germans began their descent. When all five of them had stepped onto the soil, Henry and his men surrounded them, then continued on their way to the beach, proud to have captured them as prisoners.
Not more than a few moments later, one of the Germans let out a shout. Henry’s men looked around, then looked to him for direction. He shrugged and kept walking. Who ever knew what was going through a German’s mind? They were sick, twisted bastards, most of them, he had decided.
A commotion behind them caught his attention, and he turned around. A shout from one of his men spun him back around. Two already lay dead in the grass, while others struggled with the German prisoners who had broken free. A snapping branch behind him caught his attention and he whirled, swinging his rifle into firing position, from his shoulder where he had been carrying it. Henry fired off a shot without taking the time to aim. His fingers refused to cooperate as he hurried to reload. Raising the weapon to his shoulder again, he looked down the iron sights for his target.
WHUMP!
The grass-covered earth rushed up at him, until they crashed together. The air in his lungs rushed out in a breath. The side of his head burned like a coffeepot over a fire. The prisoners! He thought. Scrambling for his rifle, he rolled to his knees and fought to push himself into a standing position. Shaking the cobwebs from the corners of his mind, he ran into the fight, wielding his rifle like a battle-ax.
Bayonets and fists were swung with desperation, but they were overwhelmed. The Germans seemed to pour from behind every tree and from under every rock. Henry turned from the fight to look for his radio-man. He saw the pack lying on the ground, smashed into bits. Not two strides from it, lay the bloodied body of a young man. He swore under his breath. Help would not be coming any time soon.
Another shout rang out behind him. He spun, intent on getting his men out of this mess he’d gotten them into. All attention was focused on an object lying on the ground. It didn’t even take a second for him to realize what it was.
Henry threw himself onto the small, green object with a shout. “Get back! Everyone take cover!”
His thoughts darted to the beautiful women whose photo graced the inside of his helmet. The beautiful brunette he was proud to call his bride, and the blond-haired beauty who was his daughter. He hadn’t met her yet. But his wife assured him that they were both anxiously awaiting his return.
~*~*~
The dancing sunlight in the small green clearing gained none of her attention, no matter how it glided across the uneven sod. I leaned forward and strained to hear what she was whispering to the cold stone.
The voices were closer now, coming around the bend in the path. A color guard led the way - followed by six men, carrying between them a long, flag-draped coffin.

“ I finally know, Grandpa. They told me how he died. I always tell you how proud you would be of him, Grandpa, what a man he’s become. And what a hero he is. He learned that from you, I think. Every visit, you hear me brag on him. But this time,” the woman paused, fighting a losing battle against the tears that were welling up in her eyes. “This time, I’m here to ask you for a favor. Please tell him how proud I am of him. Tell him that I love him. Tell him that I miss him already. And tell him that I love him, Grandpa.”

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Of Memory and Honor

Memorial Day is not one of those holidays that I can wish a 'happy day' to someone, though that's often how we phrase it. It has become a signal of the beginning of summer, and a day for BBQs and pool parties. But Memorial Day is not a day for celebration. It is a day for honor and remembrance.

A day to stop our busy lives and remember that those of us who went to church today, did so without fear of persecution, because of the men and women that have given their lives in service to our country. To remember the families that won't have grandpa around for their 4th of July picnic this year, because he died in Germany when his plane was shot down. Or their mom or dad isn't there, because they were killed in Vietnam or Korea. To think of the kids and young adults whose parent - whose brother or sister gave their life in Operation Iraqi Freedom, or fighting in the mountains of Afghanistan.

We don't have to agree with the wars our country is fighting, to support our soldiers. You don't even need to get excited when you get the chance to sit down with a veteran, and hear their stories. But on a day that our nation has set aside to remember those who gave their lives, you DO need to be thankful. Their willing sacrifice is the reason that you don't have to go fight a war you don't believe in. 

Every Memorial Day, I am overwhelmingly grateful that the sacrifice that I remember and am thankful for is not that of my own family or friend. My cousin served two summer tours of duty in Iraq, and my best friend spent a year in the desert. By the grace of God, they both came home, and I get to celebrate holidays  with them, and attend their weddings and birthday parties.

This weekend is dear to me because my life could be a completely different story, were the world a different place. Our military is not everything. I would be the first to admit that. But Americans have lost the love and respect for our troops that we once had. In 1942, Rosie the Riveter was a persona developed to inspire the women on the home-front during World War II, who had to take over the men's jobs in the factories. Many of our bomber aircraft were made by these woman, while their husbands, fathers and brothers were fighting on the battle-front. 

Today, woman have taken that same "We can do it!" slogan and twisted it to a degree that many of my generation have grown up believing that they didn't need men. Rosie the Riveter wasn't a woman who didn't need a man - she was a woman taking care of her man. 

To me, this is the other meaning of Memorial Day. Not all casualties of war are deceased. Men and woman come back from combat changed. Wounded physically, yes, but also mentally and emotionally. Somewhere along the line, it became seen as weak and unacceptable for a warrior to need help. But our warriors need us, all the same. 

My new bracelets, shown here, are a personal reminder and a public statement of my feelings on the matter. The red, white and blue one is obvious - my pride in the American flag displayed on my wrist for the world to see. The second one, in black and white, is two-fold in meaning - this stands for the POW-MIA flag, forever honoring those soldiers taken as prisoners of war that never got to return home, and those missing in action - with no closure for their families. No proper burial or honors for the soldiers. It also represents the Wounded Warrior Project, committed to helping those soldiers who return home in need of both physical and mental/emotional help. 




I'm proud to take a stand for those who have stood on the front lines for my freedom. Are you?

Friday, February 28, 2014

From Goodbye, to Hello

In lieu of an update post this evening, here is a short story I wrote recently. Enjoy!

~ Jacki ~
Semper Fi


It’s not easy to be thrown around carelessly when you know the weight of that which you carry. You try to infuse emphasis and meaning into your flight, but what can one word do in that distance from one set of lips to the ear adjacent?

We watch from the shoulders of the people, riding the breath of their farewell, but it is a rare moment that any of us get a chance to convey the fullness of our mission. Often, instead, we are tossed casually back across the shoulders of one, only to bounce, un-noticed off the jacket of another.

But every now and then, if you’re extremely lucky, and you wait very, very patiently, you just might get a chance to be the most meaningful moment in someone’s life.

~*~*~*~

Often, you can find me in the homes of school children, after the teachers bid them adieu for the day, I have an unpleasant bus ride home, and then an evening of boredom before another trip back to school. I hang on tight to my little people’s backpacks as they trot off to the bus.

One particular frost-laden morning, I was riding with a little girl, dubbed ‘Carrots’ by the middle school quarterback. She seemed happy, for having such an unfortunate nickname, and I couldn’t help but wish someone would punish that boy for his unkindness. No little girl deserved that.

Still, I hoped she wouldn’t leave me on the bus, as I preferred the pretty, polite female teachers to the dirty, unpleasant bus drivers, and I was more likely to get set free from the cyclical life at school if I landed with one of the teachers, but she handed me off to the driver as she disembarked at the sidewalk with an excited ‘Bye, Mr. Garry!.’ With a groan, I tried to kick myself free of his grimy grey beard, but without the breath to set me free, I was stuck.

Careless, I muttered, as I watched the herd of children tripping and hurrying off to class. Don’t they understand the potential they carry inside? I could be so much more to them, if only they understood. Then again, I had to admit; maybe it was better if they didn’t know it all. Not just yet.

I squirmed my way to a somewhat less-greasy position and prepared to wait this one out. As unfriendly as this guy seemed to be, I got the feeling that I could be waiting a good long while.

We left the bus in a parking lot a few blocks from the school – just one yellow bus in a sea of twenty-some yellow buses. A gruff nod to the beautiful bus driver that had pulled in behind us cheated me out of an escape from the dingy beard. I groaned. Would the man never speak?

He climbed into a purple sedan that was easily as dingy as his beard and made his way down to the Rusty Turnpike. Sliding his filthy jeans across the torn barstool, he motioned to the bartender who pulled a cheap bottle of beer out of the cooler and pushed it across the bar. Seriously? I sidestepped quickly to avoid the cold mouth of the bottle. The bus driver might be accustomed to alcohol this early in the day, but I wasn’t up for it.

Three or four longnecks later, my driver stood up and weaved his way through the other early-morning drunks to the door. A clumsy ‘Later’ to the old man sitting at the end of the bar narrowly saved me from the even worse fate of being stuck in the bar for the rest of the day. The beard, at least, wasn’t dark and cloudy – though it did smell distinctly of alcohol.

Stubbing his toe on the leg of a chair, Garry tipped forward, dangerously close to landing flat on his face. He caught the edge of the table with one hand and pushed himself back upright. On our way out, we passed a dark-haired man in dirty jeans and a torn, black t-shirt. He looked far more interesting than the slob I was tied to now, and I dared to hope that maybe-

“‘Bye now,” my bus driver slurred. The apathetic exchange set me free, but left me clawing desperately at the tall stranger’s shoulder seam as he, too, stood up and strode out of the bar. The tiniest hint of an expensive scotch lingered on his breath – no stench of drunkard, no stumbling lack of control, just a bracing shot before…what? This one could be very, very interesting.

~*~*~*~

One short, bumpy ride in his pickup truck later, we pulled up in front of a light blue, single-story ranch-style. Alan turned the key in the ignition and palmed the silver key for a moment. One silver ignition key, with the identifying ‘Chevy’ on the black plastic worn down to a faint impression, and a plain gold key that looked like it belonged to a padlock. I clung to a loose thread as the man made his way up the dilapidated walk to the house. His knock at the front door rattled my hold, but without his voice to break the bond, I was safe from a treacherous fall. Another hearty thundering on the door brought slow footsteps from the inside of the house, and I thought I heard a man’s voice muttering something about knickers and knots.

The white painted door eased open, and a solemn face appeared at the edge of it, mirroring the grim expression that had remained on the face of my silent companion since we met. A silent glance passed between them – one of those inside things that outsiders aren’t supposed to understand. But there wasn’t an outsider here, not that they could see anyway. This house had obviously not seen a woman’s touch in years – the paint was peeling, the window sills showed signs of sun-fading due to the lack of curtains, and around the chiseled face of Alan’s friend, I saw stacks of dirty dishes that I could hide an entire novella in.

I waited for one of the men to say something, but neither of them seemed to move so much as to take a breath. They just stood there – somehow communicating with their eyes. Then Alan reached his right hand into the pocket of his jeans and pulled something out.

“Here, Lane,” he paused and stretched his hand out. “These…these are yours now. Take care of ‘er.”

Lane reached out and took Alan’s hand in his own, in a firm handshake that sent me scrambling for a better grip. When they let go, I saw the glint of metal in the Lane’s hand. He opened his fist for a moment…just long enough for me to see a set of keys resting in his palm.

The keys to the truck we had just arrived in.

I waited for an explanation…surely he wasn’t going to walk all the way back to town! And would these two never speak? I’d been in deaf communities that had more words flying around than this little visit did!

From behind us came the sound of tires skidding to a stop on the gravel road, and I turned to look. A red-headed woman stepped out of the driver’s seat of an 60’s-era Dodge Charger, pushed the door shut with more force that was really necessary, I thought, and leaned back against it. She folded her arms across her chest and stood there. Watching us. Waiting.

These people are literally the strangest I’ve ever seen in my life. Do none of them speak?

I turned back around just as Lane stepped out onto the deck and shoved his hands in his pockets.

Strange.

“You should go.” Lane’s voice was cracking with emotion, but he seemed to have it mostly under control.

Alan nodded. “My ride’s here.”

More silence.

Lane looked down at his feet, then up at the woman behind us and gave her an awkward wave. He clapped a hand firmly on Alan’s shoulder, then turned and opened the door again.

“Love ya, man. Take care.”

Alan nodded. “I will,” he replied, and Lane disappeared through the doorway again and shut the door.

We stood there for a moment longer, as though he was taking in the sights one last time, then the dark-haired man turned and walked away from the strange, lonely house.

He embraced the woman at the car – a hug, a lingering look into her eyes and a quick kiss on the cheek. The type of interaction that leaves all who are watching with a sense that there’s something more going on than what they can see - but no indication as to what that is. Then the man walked around the back of the vehicle, slid into the passenger seat, and we drove away, tires skidding on the gravel driveway once more.

~*~*~*~

We all got out at the airport, though really, it just looked like a mess of tarmac strips that had been left over from a big-city project and got dumped here in the hopes that someday, someone would use them.

Apparently someone had finally found a use for them, because there was a plane sitting in the middle of the black maze, door open, engines idling.

Alan and the woman turned to look at each other, the silence between them as thick as the Jell-O in the middle school cafeteria food line.

Say something, please! Why this silence and secrecy?

“Well, this is it, then,” she said quietly, her lower lip trembling just slightly as she did so.

He nodded. “Yeah…I guess this is it.”

She wrapped her skinny arms around him, burying her face in his chest, and he pulled her in close. I could feel her shuddering breaths as she clung to him, nearly hidden from the world by his far more muscular form.

They were the very image of a protector and his charge. A maiden and her prince.

A woman and the love of her life.

“Goodbye,” she whispered again, and I saw one of my own kind float from her lips to his ear, and hang there – savoring that precious, love-laden moment. The kind we all spend our lives longing for. The kind we cherish.

He held her tight, planted a tender kiss on her trembling lips, cupped her face in his hands and whispered back, “Goodbye, my beautiful. I love you. I’ll come back. For you. Trust me.”

I was caught in the wake of his breath, carried along to her earlobe, where I sat, bathing in the glory of the moment. The honor to carry a salutation of that magnitude…it didn’t happen often, and it never lasted long enough.

He let his hands drop back to his sides, and I felt her sigh. A deep, body-wracking, soul-rending sigh; the sigh of loss, and of pain.

That’s when I saw it. The drab green bag in the backseat of the car. He was pulling it out, now, and slinging it over his shoulder. It looked like nothing more than a large canvas sack, half-filled with unidentifiable objects.

She reached to her neck and wrapped her fingers around something hanging on a chain. I wiggled around to get a better look. It was a tag of some sort…I stopped. Dog tag-

I turned back to the retreating figure, and the pieces fell into place.

This was ‘goodbye for now’ but it was also ‘goodbye, forever,’ – you never know which now could be your last, but when the one you love is leaving for war, you never – ever – take that chance.

“I’ll be here when you come back, Alan Johnson. I promise. Goodbye, Sniper.” her breath blew me across the pavement once more, but lacked the strength to carry me all the way to his ear.


I think that’s okay, though. Because maybe I’ll wait here; wait for him to come home. Because ‘hello’ is just as important as ‘goodbye.’ And it hurts so much less.


Friday, February 21, 2014

Home is Where...?

I came back to WI for a visit and a Dr. appt. last Friday (spend Valentine's Day in the car, alone, driving 7.5hrs, anyone?) and was supposed to drive back to KS on Wednesday...I'm still in WI, though, because I got snowed in while staying Sunday night in Baraboo, and mom was sad that she didn't get to see me Monday night, so I stayed an extra day...and got weathered in again. Thus, I will not be leaving WI until tomorrow morning.


Under normal circumstances, I would really hate the delay, and having my plans so messed up. However, there have been a few things that have made the extra time not only bearable, but also enjoyable.

One of them being the results of the blood test at the hospital on Tuesday - all the numbers are good, and I don't have to go back to the Dr. for a year! That chapter of my life is reaching the closing scene, and I cannot wait to turn the page onto the next chapter and see what's in store for me there.

Second, my best friend and older brother has been staying with and working for my parents for a few weeks, and he's been here ever since I arrived, with the exception of the two nights we stayed at his apartment so I could see my friends up there, and hang out with his girlfriend. Getting to see him interacting with my family, and being so happy has been a blessing straight from Heaven.

My friends and family are an area of my life that you don't mess with - hurt them, and you incur a wrath that you would be better off never even knowing existed. To see the changes that are settling into his life bring a lightness to my heart that I haven't known in years. I never realized how much mental and emotional energy was used up interceding for him, but suddenly this great weight has been lifted, and a peace and joy have replaced it. And I have only God to thank for that.





So, tomorrow morning I will once again set out on the 7.5hr trip back to my new home, my new job, and my Kansas City friends...and I'll be sad (not that I'll cry, of course!) but I will also be happy. Because I leave my friends and family here in WI in a new and better place than when I left in December. And I know that I'll be back - and there's so much to do the next time I visit!


Friday, February 7, 2014

Where Is Our Power?

This is something I've been asking myself for a while - where has our Power gone? What happened to the days that we walked in confidence and authority in Christ?

I have seen a growing trend that we come to God with timidity - we ask Him for things, but we come to Him like we expect Him to say no. Like we need to ask just so, and only if we haven't eaten any processed sugars that week, and hoping that He's in a good mood.

But we don't need to hope. The Bible tells us to ask in His name, and we will receive (John 16:24). Sure, He doesn't always answer the way we hope He might - His ideas are often very different from ours - but that doesn't mean He's not answering us.

I don't mean to suggest that we should approach the King of Kings irreverently - He is, after all, King. But remember that we are called children of God - a prince is not afraid to ask his dad for something. He walks up to the same man that the entire kingdom is afraid to approach without an invitation, and just asks, fully expecting to receive what he asked for. Sometimes he will, and sometimes he won't, but the next time he wants something - back to Dad he'll go.

We should be the same. No, God won't always answer us the way we hope - sometimes when we ask him to show us His will on a matter, His will is that we go the opposite direction than we were hoping - but I guarantee He's got something better in mind.

When I was 18 and got the rejection letter from the college I was certain I was being called to attend, I thought it was the end of all things good and exciting in my young adult life. I spent almost two years feeling lost and wondering if I had missed something along the way. During those two years, I encountered more than a few circumstances that left me more confused and discouraged than ever, wondering how I had gotten so far off track from the amazing plans everyone assured me were mine for the taking. Then I got the call from Keifer about starting Lantern Press in Olathe, KS. 

What he suggested was more than a little insane, and I told him so in no uncertain terms. But even as I tried to convince us both that we were in no position to do anything that big, I knew it was God. There wasn't any writing on the wall, no audible command to move myself across the country - just a peace and a leading from the Spirit. But I'm a skeptic, so I set demands - before I would consider moving that far away from family and home, I needed a job. I had one within weeks. Next, I needed a place to live. This time, it was a matter of days before I received word from my contacts here - they had a place lined up for me to stay, free of charge, until I found a roommate and a permanent residence. After I finally agreed, and set a date to move, everything else fell into place. I got a job in Wisconsin for the next three months, and began making plans to move.

Some people thought I was crazy for expecting God to fulfill my expectations before I would take the step, and maybe I was. But then again - they thought Mary was crazy, too, and she ended up giving birth to the Son of God.

I guess what I'm really trying to say is that there's a certain authority comes with our status as Children of Most High God, and I think it's high-time we stand in it once again, before our enemy has us all convinced that our status as such doesn't actually mean anything.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

The Pain is Worth It...Right?

What happens when someone that you never thought about losing...is suddenly one of those people that that you can see slipping away from your life? What can you do when you realize that nothing is going to save the relationship that was - but neither of you is ready to step into the relationship that could be. Friendship is one of those delicate things that cannot be predicted, and you cannot see these things coming.

And so I sit here tonight, with a heavy heart, looking back on all the relationships that I've lost over the years, and I have to wonder...why? My entire life, I have wondered why I struggled so much to keep friends. From my first friend when I was four, to my best friend while I was in my pre-teen years, to this latest development -  my luck with friends has been atrocious.

The appropriate answer, of course, as a Christian, is that this just gave me a chance to grow closer to the Lord, and seek Him with all of that time I'm not wasting on friends and other frivolous things. And there is excessive truth in that, however, there are times that praying and seeking the Lord don't actually feel like enough.

Don't get me wrong, He is always enough. But there are times when a softly spoken "it's okay, I love you. You'll make it through, I promise," and a warm hug are crucial to recovering from the buffeting waves of the world. Let's be honest, sometimes a passionate, "You get the tar, I'll grab the feathers," helps a fair amount as well!

Honestly, I have no concluding lesson learned, or solution to the problem...basically today sucked, and I haven't got a clue what to do about it.

Excuse me while I go find some more comfort food and movies to indulge in.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

28 Pieces

Written months ago, but never posted... I wrote this after the school shooting in CT, and everyone was asking 'where was God'? Well...this was my opinion. Take it or leave it.




 28 Pieces

“No,” I urged softly
“Please don’t lie.”
He hesitated, but powered on anyway
“No, mama, I didn’t touch it.”
And a few pieces of my heart fell to the floor

A few years later he’s at school,
Telling stories so the boys think he’s cool
“Shh,” I whispered, “That’s mean, don’t repeat it.”
And he didn’t hesitate, he just spit it out.
And a few pieces of my heart fell to the floor.

Now he’s in high school,
Yelling at his mom, sneaking a smoke now and then,
“You know this is wrong,” I said,  “Please stop.”
He sucked in a deep breath and dissed his mom again
And a few pieces of my heart fell to the floor.

Soon he’s graduated and moved on
He says he’s all grown up now
And doesn’t need me anymore
I beg him to let me help, and to invite me on his journey
But a few more pieces of my heart fall to the floor

He grabs the gun and slides the bullets in
I cry, yelling over the wall he’s built
“PLEASE! Don’t do this! I can help you!”
But he walks away, breaks into a school and takes lives
In all, twenty-eight pieces of my heart on the floor.