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Friday, June 29, 2012

Aliens, or will Caleb be licensed to fly before he can legally drive??

Confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth (Heb 11:13) . . .

Coming back to America can be alienating.  No one is intrinsically alien, even a Martian would be normal on Mars. To be a stranger requires relativity, a judgement of other-ness by someone else.  As soon as we land, we are usually pretty successful in blending in.  We borrow my mom's car, my sister's clothes, my son's cell phone.  Caleb and I successfully conquered activating a new debit card, and extracting money from a drive-through ATM.  Pumping gas.  Driving 75 miles per hour (that was the actual speed limit I might add) on six or eight-lane highways with merge lanes and exit ramps.  Enjoying air conditioning.  Paying an arm and a leg for a real theatre movie (the Avengers).  Swiping credit cards, buying jeans.  We engaged many relatives in conversations about their lives, I hope without reminding them too much of how bizarre our life is.  We were on a roll.

Then we hit the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles.  Having learned the painful way through Luke's experiences that it is VERY DIFFICULT to get a driver's license, we read the fine print and made sure Caleb had the requisite 40-hour driver's ed course through RVA.  With a certificate to prove it.  From the moment we landed to the moment of truth, he drove everywhere, ten hours to WV and back, and on every errand.  He worked on his complete stops, three-point turns, and signal lights for lane changes.  We made sure he knew all the ins and outs of operating my mom's car.  

And so on my 50th birthday, my license expired and had to be renewed, and we planned to get Caleb his license too.  He's 17 1/3.  He needs a lot more experience, but this was the only day in the foreseeable future he might be able to go to the Virginia DMV and try.  We were hopeful that he wouldn't fail his driving test on some minor issue as a matter of principle for first-time teen boys.  

However, he never even got to take the test.  The DMV employee called the supervisor.  They pored over Caleb's RVA certificate of completion of driver's ed.  They asked about the school, and why he was there.  But in the end the supervisor ruled.  Only driver's ed classes TAKEN IN VIRGINIA can count for a VA driver's license.  He has to take a 40-hour course (at who knows what expense) over in Virginia, or wait until he's 19 like Luke did.  It doesn't matter that this was an American-curriculum course taught be American teachers in an American-accredited school.  It was in Africa.  No good.  Of course for all I know they may refuse documents from West Virginia or Maryland too.  But I wonder.

These are the moments when we feel our alienation acutely.  Part of me wanted to stand on their counter and say:  BOTH THE VIRGINIA SENATOR AND THE CONGRESSIONAL REPRESENTATIVE NOMINATED THIS YOUNG MAN FOR THE US AIR FORCE ACADEMY.  I AM GIVING THIS BOY TO AMERICA.  ISN'T THAT ENOUGH??

But when Virginia rejected us for in-state tuition( because we had a gap of filing state income taxes for some of our early years in Uganda, because we never made enough money to pay those taxes, we didn't always file in the past, and now in spite of seven years of filing and our permanent address, voter's registration, driver's licenses, etc. we are considered non-residents) and when the Virginia DMV rejected Caleb's driver's ed and refused to let him get a driver's license . . well, we feel alienated all over again.

So Caleb will remain with a learner's permit only, perhaps being licensed to fly before he can legally drive.

The Remarkable Journey of Caleb and Jennifer

A long time ago, in a seminar with the late Dave Pollock, guru of the Third Culture Kid, we heard the excellent advice that missionary families should try to take a pause when they travel, a few days as a family when they can carve that out between continents.  Because Caleb had to start the USAFA a month before his scheduled High School graduation, this was a bit more challenging for us this year.  Scott very graciously allowed me to travel with Caleb while he stays in Africa with Julia, Jack, and Acacia, not to mention Luke who is studying Swahili in a Yale program in Mombasa this summer as well.  So when Caleb decided on the Air Force and I booked our tickets (through our same life-saver Mission Concepts agent Paul Cardell), I put in a two-night one-day stop in Amsterdam for the two of us.

Planes, buses, trains, tram, bicycles, and feet all propelled us to and from Haarlem, the seashore, and the city of Amsterdam.  We stayed in an authentic Dutch home on a canal, with a brother/sister pair who rent the top story as a bed and breakfast.  

Saw the watch-shop where Corrie Ten Boom's family hid Jews and organized resistance to the Nazi's in WWII, at the cost of most of their lives in concentration camps.  The Hiding Place tells the amazing redemptive story of how Corrie is inspired by her dying sister to forgive their captors and make peace.

Other highlights were the quaint historic streets, scrumptious food, and a Sunday evening vesper's service in the Cathedral complete with pipe organ, soloist, and cello, us and a dozen elderly Dutch people meditating on Jesus as the shepherd.  We like the Netherlands.  A lot.

The next morning we rented bikes and explored a national park, the dunes and dikes that keep Holland from being swallowed by the sea.  Cool wind, flowering grasses, and about twenty kilometers of exercise and fun.

Our favorite thing to do on an Amsterdam stop is to catch up with our friends Bob and Miriam, who are WHM missionaries and extraordinary people.

When we landed in Virginia we had one week to:  buy clothes for Caleb for his Thanksgiving and Christmas breaks, the only time this year he'll be out of uniform, as well as a few essential toiletries; drive to West Virginia for an annual Aylestock family reunion and time to re-connect with about 50 relatives, swim in the river (fun until we found three ominous-appearing snakes sunning on the rocks then shooting into the water), hike, cook, make homeade ice cream, and mostly socialize; attempt to get my driver's license renewed (success) and Caleb's driver's license period (failure, they rejected his RVA driver's ed); and celebrate my 50th birthday.

For my Birthday we went to a restaurant in Leesburg, the same town where I was born and married.  Love those full-circle completeness sort of milestones.  Our close family friends were also celebrating their 50th anniversary, so Chuck and Kay Meyer, my sister and mother, Caleb and I all had dinner.  I chose the bison-and-shrimp, with a local-winery beverage.  Not your every-day occurrence.  

The next day we flew to Colorado, where our remarkable journey continued.  We were welcomed at the airport by a trio of Bolthouse girls, and showered with their blessings particularly in the form of a Subaru station-wagon to borrow.  As Caleb and I drove into Colorado Springs, we could see the wall of smoke from the forest fire that had been burning for a few days.  But we checked with our friends the Grahams who told us to come on.  Since Caleb had never even laid eyes on the Academy, I decided to drive him through the base.  It is like going to college in a national park.  Twenty or forty thousand acres or something like that, bordering on national forest.  The stunning chapel, the academic quad, the expansive fields and trails.  We paused at an overlook for photos, walked on a trail a bit, and drove on.  As we looped to the southern side of the base, Caleb said he spotted fire coming over the ridge.  I said, no, they told us the fire is not on this side, you must just be seeing the smoke rising.  No, mom, it's fire.  AS WE WATCHED the fire exploded from the hot afternoon wind, and raced into the valley towards the town.  I pulled off the road with dozens of others, amazed.

When we got to the Grahams, they were glued to the news, and preparing themselves for possible evacuation.  That evening we helped them take all their heirloom family pictures off the walls and wrap them, load up boxes, and fill their car.  Ashes settled down onto their porch.  Darkness fell, and the fire glowed a few miles away.  They were a few blocks east of the mandatory evacuation zone, but not far enough away.  About 9:30 we realized the fire had gone from 5,000 to 15,000 acres that afternoon, and was out of control.  It was hard to decide to leave, but no one was going to sleep in that danger anyway.  To make things less complicated we split up, the Grahams going to their friends, and  we pulled out the contacts several friends had given us and by 10 pm we were settling in the basement guest room of Heidi's aunt and uncle's house.

The next morning the Lutjens got news that they needed to take in other evacuees, so after a day of errands and repacking and preparing Caleb for the next morning's in-processing, we attended a reception for Officer's Christian Fellowship, and then landed at a third contact's home, people we had connected with through speaking at a grad fellowship at UVA a decade ago!

Which brings our remarkable journey to the point of goodbye, which has already been covered in another post.  The 36 or so hours in Colorado Springs prior to Caleb's entry was supposed to be a cushion of time to settle and prepare, but became a crazy unsettled uncertain experience of breathing smoke, navigating the town, finding people to take us in, wondering whether the program would even go on (the USAFA evacuated their faculty housing area, but shifted the cadets and kept them on schedule).  Meanwhile we kept coming back to the Grahams for good food and news updates and hugs.  In the end we connected with four families (the Grahams, the two homes where we spent a night, and Caleb's sponsor family, not to mention the entire OCF community of inspiring military Christians) in ways we might not have without the fire.  Colorado Springs is a haven of kind, godly people, and we were well supported.

It has been a remarkable 12 days since we flew out of Nairobi, long days with the Northern Hemisphere summer of early dawns and lingering dusk.  Remarkable for the long parade of helpful, giving, family and friends.  For the spectacular scenery (drove over the Eastern Continental Divide in WV and the Western Continental Divide in CO), the ice cream and berries and steaks and salads, the speedy highways.  The memories that will not likely ever be repeated, to be treasured in the process of releasing Caleb to serve and grow and learn.

Jennifer's summer plan

In case you're wondering . . . while Scott is doing a fantastic job as Mr. Dr. Mom, running the medicine department (short staffed), directing the WHM field, managing an inpatient service, teaching interns and residents, covering all student health needs at RVA and that weekly clinic, fielding crisis calls, filtering through over a hundred emails a day and answering with grace and wisdom, cooking dinners and cheering at games and generally being amazing . . . . I am doing the exact opposite.  Which makes us a good wholesome combination, but I definitely come out on the good side of this deal.

After the swearing-in ceremony today, I left Colorado Springs and headed northwest into the Rockies.  For 40 days while Caleb is in Basic Training Boot Camp, I am staying on a ranch owned by friends who have graciously leant me a cottage for quiet contemplation, prayer, and writing.  There is no internet here, but I'll find some intermittently to check on my family.  Please pray for me to listen to God, be renewed and refreshed, and write the story of our first 19 years in Africa in a way that might bless others and give Him glory.  It is a fast of sorts, from the world, from my normal work and connections, from noise and input, from even good things relationally.  This is day one and I miss my husband and kids.  A lot.  But it is also a gift, a time I don't expect will be repeated in my life.  

The family who owns the ranch is extremely generous with their fellow Kingdom-workers, offering respite in a place that is high (9300 feet), clear, stunning, peaceful.  They stay in the main house part-time, but I am alone in the "Tack House" next to the barn.  When you pray for me, ask God to bless these gracious people too.

Swearing In

This morning dawned clear, and after a scrumptious breakfast with the Grahams I pulled out to the north to attend the Basic Cadet Swearing-In Ceremony.  A helpful person at the In-Processing told me to come early.  She was certainly right.  I arrived a full hour early and got one of the last front-row spots and parking places.  The Basic Cadets (known as Doolies, I have to look up the origin of that still) were already out at 7:30 practicing their marching.  As we parents gathered on the balcony-like high overlook by the chapel, they formed up in the quad below, obeying orders over the loudspeaker as they practiced for the ceremony.  I brought binoculars and could identify the G squadron, but with the distance, the angle, the wind, the packed-in nature of the formation of a thousand kids, it was very very very difficult to pick Caleb out.  I'm pretty sure I saw him once, and I waved enthusiastically even though he couldn't possibly see me.

What is most shocking is the transformation in 24 hours.  Yesterday these kids looked like most high schoolers (well, a bit more fit and clean cut, but still in shorts and T shirts, with families and smiles and hair).  Today there were a thousand of them marching in ten groups of a hundred, in rows, in step, all wearing the same uniform, same boots, same hat, same shaved head.  In Kenya and Uganda I can pick my kids out a mile away, but there are an awful lot of white people here.

They all swore not to lie, cheat or steal, to uphold the constitution, to defend the country, to fulfill their duties.  The band played, the National Anthem was sung as the flag went up, and the Air Force song which I was pleasantly surprised (thanks to my mom) to find that I knew ("Here we go, into the wild blue yonder . . .").  There was an inspirational speech referencing Saving Private Ryan (the movie).  And then they all marched away.  To more drills, and abuse.  

I read today that the "altitude index" which takes heat and summer humidity into account makes their atmosphere more like 11,000 plus feet.  It is hot.  About five Basic Cadets swooned or fainted during the ceremony, and had to be escorted to the rear to sit or lie in the grass and drink water and revive.  It's going to be a rough six weeks.

These kids are all smart and successful, but the summer is designed to break them.  To make them humble.  To build esprit de corps.  To weed out any that can't function under extreme pressure, and give them the practice and skills of focus in adversity that will enable them to think clearly and react wisely in combat, or if they become POW's.  To demand the attention to detail (the dreaded room inspections evidently take hours and hours to prepare for) that will carry over into their aviation, when details count for life or death.  To give them confidence eventually that they are able to survive and accomplish.  To turn them into leaders.  Pray for Caleb to persevere through the intense physical and mental strain of this boot camp and emerge with personal strength and a team-spirit outlook.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Caleb Processes into the USAFA

 Today, Thursday 28 June 2012, Caleb entered the military.  I will write more later about the last week which has been full of good things (and fires).  But a few hours ago I snapped these pictures as I dropped Caleb off.  Above we are in the parking lot of the Field House, where the cadet "in-processing" was moved to get further away from the fires that threatened the southern border of the massive Academy base.  Cadets walk up to a table in the lot and drop off their bag, which includes the limited personal possessions one may bring:  ID, toilettries, Bible, soccer cleats, stationery.  That's it.  No clothes, no photos, nothing personal.

 Inside the field house cadets and parents listen to a brief cheery introduction with bad Navy and Army jokes to loosen us up and make us smile in spite of the impending goodbyes.  When they asked for shows of hands from various states the MC ended with Alaska and Hawaii and then asked if anyone traveled further.  Caleb raised his hand and said "Kenya" which the MC used as a PR point with parents to show how diverse the class is.  So here is Mr. Diversity.  Then there was a brief tear-y hug and the cadets filed to the right and the parents to the left.
 The indoor field was the site for the initial stage of inprocessing.  Parents could watch this part from a balcony.
 Caleb at the table, reporting.
 Another station, signing something.

 After about five stops at tables, Caleb walks across the field towards the track.  I wanted him to look up so I used the Nyati call (a poor imitation, but it worked, and I don't care what the other parents thought). 
 Last few of Caleb as he walks out into the 100 degree day to line up for the buses that take the kids from the Field House to the cadet area.  This is where the yelling starts, but mercifully for me the parents can't see that part.
 Afterwards there was a parent fair of sorts, tables and booths and displays, helpful polite people answering questions in a very reassuring manner.  I found out that Caleb is in G squadron (referred to as GUTS, as in no guts no glory)  for the summer (A through J makes ten squadrons of about 100 each, for the 1000-strong class of 2016).  Each squadron has four "flights" a, b, c, and d.  Caleb is in flight "c".  Those 40 flights (Aa, Ab, Ac, Ad, Ba, Bb, etc.) join the 40 cadet squadrons in August after Basic Training.  At that point Caleb's flight (Gc) joins squadron 27 which is named the Thunderbirds.  Very sweet since that was my Dad's vintage car.

From this moment until Parents' Weekend (American Labor Day, Sep 1-3), except for a couple hours on "Acceptance Day" Aug 7, we can not see Caleb or talk to him on the phone or email.  His only communication is by written letters.  I have mailed the first two already, and am very grateful to the RVA community for sending me here with a stack of notes!  If anyone else wants to write to him to encourage him, use plain paper, no pictures, no colors, no cards, and mail to this address:
Basic Cadet Caleb S. Myhre
PO Box 2694
USAFA CO 80841

I cried a lot today.  I was brave all week, right up to the last minute.  Not really brave but at peace, knowing this was Caleb's desire, and believing it to be God's leading.  As a parent it would be selfish for me to keep him from that just because I want him to be with me.  This launching is what we prepare for over 17 years.  It is good, and right, but still very very painful.  I told him my tears and grief do not take away from the fact that he's making good choices that I believe in, I just MISS him already.

Thanks for prayers.  Grief is exhausting, so more of the story of our travels eventually, but this is all I can muster for now.