Friday, August 19, 2011
The sight of a pair of U.S Army Airborne Wings never fails to bring a smile to my face and a sense of pride and joy at the rich heritage into which I was born as the son of a career Untied States Army Paratrooper! As I grew up, the line from the “Ballad of the Green Berets” sung by Staff Sergeant Barry Sadler that was especially stirring to me was this one: “Put Silver Wings on my son’s chest. Make him one of America’s best!” Truly, the continuous and sacrificial service of the courageous people who have earned those wings throughout U.S. history symbolize what is great and admirable about America and Americans!
As meaningful as those wings are to me, today my wife and I are bestowing a pair of wings on our number three daughter that cannot be pinned, worn or seen with the natural eye. I have been anticipating this “Wing Ceremony” with a bit of fear and dread, for weeks but now that its time has arrived, I find myself full of joy and expectation. Context can be a wonderful comforter, and helping Joana – our Bu – to prepare practically for her launching into college life has provided some wonderful context for us. We are blessed by the fact that though she will be away, there will be plenty of opportunities for her to come home and visit, and on some occasions visit for a significant period of time! We are blessed with the knowledge that she is attending a great school with a mission we fully support and a philosophy of life that we totally endorse. We are also blessed by her excitement and that extra “pep” in her step that let’s us know that this adventure is hers and the beginning of a new journey of discovery that will help shape the course of her life and the impact she will have on the world. Ultimately, we are comforted by knowing the God we serve doesn’t require our presence to bless her, protect her and guide her. As she takes flight, He is ever-present to guide, empower, comfort and protect just as He always has been for all who have clung to Him throughout human history.
That understanding of God’s ever-present love for her has freed our minds enough to enable us to take comfort in one important realization about our role as parents: Our role is not ending, it is merely changing. A great blessing we are still growing to understand through our two already adult children is the realization that parents are still needed after graduations. Though we will no longer be providing the same amount of “lift” for the flight, it is important for us to maintain contact with our newly launched “pilot”. She has now entered a more advanced phase of training. As she gains more skill and confidence, we need to remain engaged and available for encouragement, advice, counsel and help as her mission becomes clearer and her flight gains altitude. Her “flight plan” will be unique for her, but we must endeavor to do our best to make sure that though she may be flying “solo”, she needs a support team and should never feel abandoned. Our supporting roles of mentorship and coaching are critical and provide just the context we need to excite us in the midst of our fears and comfort us in the depths of our pain that Bu still needs us to be engaged and available as she takes flight into the future. Trials and challenges will come and as long as the Lord allows us to live, we must be part of the team that stands ready to support her as needed and encourage her at every opportunity. Our roles have been adjusted but are not diminished in their importance in the proper context.
All of that is a bit unsettling to consider to be sure. Nevertheless, remembering in Whose hands her future really lies, we happily give our Bu her “Wings” knowing that it is not an end to life as we know it with her, but the birth of a new and wonderful era in all of our lives that will enrich her, our family and all the others with whom she comes in contact. Use those wings well Bu and let the journey begin! Until next time…
Saturday, August 6, 2011
I had never seen my dad cry. It wasn’t a macho thing – my dad was much too secure for that. It was just that as a member of the profession of arms, a paratrooper and a combat veteran, he didn’t cry casually – especially as a “Leader of Men”. But this day was different. During a promotion party we were holding in celebration of his advancement to E-7 (Sergeant First Class) the phone rang. Dad answered and his expression instantly changed from one of great happiness to one of great pain. He answered whatever news was being shared in short sentences, nodded said something I couldn’t hear over the din of the celebration and hung up the phone. My mom made a beeline for him and asked “Sammy, what’s wrong?” He directed her to another room. Before they emerged they both called me to a quieter place in our quarters. Dad delivered the news. “Man. Aunt Mary just passed away. We’re going to Mississippi tonight!” Aunt Mary was Dad’s foster mom. After an extremely violent episode of domestic violence at the hands of his stepfather that almost killed dad as an 8-year old, Aunt Mary and her husband, Uncle Julius, decisively intervened during the twilight of their lives when even their own friends called them fools for getting involved. They fixed their wills like flint to the opportunity to make a difference in Dad’s life, defying age, family and “common sense” to raise Dad, see him to his 30’s and see me become an adolescent. Their role was life changing and life saving. The loss to Dad in Aunt Mary’s passing was monumental.
I wondered how we could possibly respond so quickly and start for Mississippi the same night, forgetting dad’s Commanding Officer was at the party. After our hushing the crowd, Dad shared the news and chatted with his Commander. I didn’t hear all of what was said, but heard the Captain say, “Take off Sergeant Jackson. Take care of your family. We’ll handle what needs to be handled. See you when you get back.”
Within a couple of hours, we were rolling. About 3 hours into an 18 hour trip from Ft. Bragg, North Carolina to Port Gibson, Mississippi, Dad started slowing the car down and pulled over. He whispered, “I need a few minutes.” Mom responded, “It’s Okay Sammy. Take all the time you need Sweetheart.” Dad got out of the car, went to the front, leaned on the hood and began to sob. His shoulders lurched up and down without control. It was apparent he didn’t care that anyone saw him – he could’ve gone to a wooded area if he had chosen to, or behind the car so we couldn’t see him, but he chose the most conspicuous place possible to “let it all out”. He cried for what seemed like 20 minutes. I asked Mom if he would be alright and she answered, “As long as he is able to cry when he needs to, he’ll be Okay.” When Dad finally got back in the car, he turned to me and said in his simple style, “Man, sometimes a man’s got to cry. It’s not good to cry about every little thing, but some things are so big, you just have to. This is one of those times for me. I’m glad you and you Momma are here with me when I need you.” With that, he started up the car and we headed down the road. He stopped a few more times on the way, and I was certain that somehow, he had shown me another part of what it meant to be a “Real Man”.
What on earth brought this story to my mind and why am I sharing it with you? Yesterday, we were entertaining some dear friends from Michigan who had spent part of the week with us. We had decided to go to one of our favorite restaurants – an Asian Buffet – to enjoy some lunch. We all sat down and Luz asked me to pray. For what ever reason, just as I opened my mouth, a flood of information surged in my mind and I realized that my 3rd daughter Joana, had only 2 more weeks to be as accessible to us as she has been for the last 18 years. At the same moment I thought about my oldest becoming a mother and my 2nd oldest getting married. Another Jackson eagle was leaving the nest and my heart rejoiced for the accomplishment, and the realization that our other Eagles were ascending yet higher heights, but my soul was also breaking at the thought of the major changes that were upon us. I couldn’t speak. A wave of emotion hit me that felt almost as powerful as the wave that hit me when I heard the news that my own mother had passed into Eternity. There was the joy of knowing something better was at hand for her, but a terrible ache for the loss I was left to experience. I was on the verge of howling with emotion. In the milliseconds that were passing, somehow I considered my father and the event I recounted earlier. For whatever reason, I gained great comfort from his honest display all those years ago, and the tears were stayed for that moment. I wasn’t ashamed to cry about this season – I already have and I am bound to again – but for whatever reason, I didn’t need to. Nevertheless, in less than 2 weeks, when we drive off and leave our Bu behind, I will be pulling over and taking my own time to feel what I need to feel and let that sorrow wash over me and reaffirm all that manhood is and does.
All this also brings to mind one of my dad’s favorite Bible verses - the shortest in the English Bible. John 11:35 recounts Jesus’ reaction upon arriving at the tomb of his friend Lazarus. Even though Jesus knew He would raise Lazarus from the dead, the verse displays Jesus’ sorrow in these words - “Jesus wept.” My dad said was drawn to this verse because he could never understand why people said it wasn’t manly to cry when there were times you just hurt so bad, you had to. He said when he became aware that Jesus, the perfect man, cried when he faced an event of great sorrow, he understood manhood in a way that he couldn’t quite explain, but could he could really embrace. He learned that real men cry real tears. Many of us serve the nation, community and our families in roles that require great strength and confidence. Because of our responsibilities and the call to inspire others in times of great trial, we feel the compulsion to ignore our pain, withhold our tears and restrain ourselves from “letting it all hang out.” I understand that compulsion and the fact that protocol has its place. I’m sure that is at least a small part of what reeled my tears back in at the restaurant. Nevertheless, let me encourage you to find a place in your pain where you can let your heartache out, find a friend with whom you can share it and a secure a conduit through which you can channel your pain into something that can be a benefit to others when they find themselves in a place in life that they just can’t help but cry. By doing so, you will have achieved one of the greatest expressions of true manhood and real womanhood available to those who aspire to make a difference in this world. So please - if you’re hurting today, and your heart is heavy go ahead and cry! It’ll help you heal and even empower you to help others in their process of healing too!
Until next time…