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Friday, August 31, 2012

Parents' Weekend Day One

7:15 am we meet Caleb at the gate.  Along with 8000 other parents.  The place is swarming with civilians, and we anticipate heavy security checks so set out an hour early.  Only they seem resigned to the onslaught and wave us all on through, so we're EARLY, early enough to breath in the 50-degree morning coolness, squint into the sunrise, watch the peaks of the Rockies suffuse pink, and get emotional when we hug in the flesh the boy we've been carrying in our hearts all these weeks.
Caleb has no early classes today, so he can walk us around to his dorm room and some special parents' day celebrations before the parade.

Note the clever periodic-table introducing his "element", the five-person unit that is the smallest working group within the Thunderbird Squadron (27).  The poster was Caleb's creation.

Scott took pictures of the airshow and parade.  Not your average college visit, that's for sure. At least a dozen cadets parachuted onto the field, followed by acrobatic gliders rolling and turning and looping in the sky above us.  Four F16 fighter jets roared over in formation just as the parade started, the 4000+ cadets marching in squadron by squadron with flags and a band.  There were cannons fired, the National Anthem, honors mentioned.  Even one of the trained real-bird falcon mascots flew in a demonstration.

From there we hike up to the dining hall, a massive crisp sunny clean square room that holds all 4000 cadets and feeds them within 25 minutes.  Today parents were invited to eat lunch, which is surprisingly good.  Then we are off to class, sitting through a lecture in military history on the Prussians and Napolean, then we are reviewing Arabic vocabulary in the language lab (happily remembered some things more than 25 years later . . ).  The best class is Chemistry for sheer enthusiasm and clarity of instruction, with multiple demonstrations and illustrations, an outline, just a superb teacher and a small group of kids rather than the massive intro courses at some schools.  Caleb is truly blessed (and so are we) to be accessing this education.

After checking out with his superior officers, we are able to leave the base, greet his sponsor family,  and take Caleb back to the Grahams for a wonderful home made dinner.

Caleb also has great room mates, like Luke, really faith-restoring to see the quality of the young men in this generation.

Caleb is doing well.  He works hard, and trains hard, and while there is a lot about the Academy that is stressful and unpleasant, he pushes on through.  We are thankful for his quiet strength and dependable effort, and delight to see his humor still shining through.  Love this kid.

Future Generations

This phrase comes up in Psalms, and is the name of an NGO founded by one of our Hopkins professors. It is on my mind after visiting Luke at Yale. Yale is such a loaded word. I usually don't mention where my kids go to college unless asked. Either people are unreasonably intimidated by that name, or skeptical and prejudiced against it. In reality, though, Yale is a great place simply because of the great kids who are there. Luke is living in a suite with five other guys, mostly the same group randomly assigned together as incoming freshmen. I remember meeting each of them and their parents a couple years ago when we were all nervous and new. So it was great fun to come back and go out to dinner with them, sit and talk in the suite, haul furniture together, make coffee. One young man spent the summer writing code for a new iphone app to analyze urine dip-stick medical tests. Another did physics research using nano-technology in Munich, Germany. Another was back home in Costa Rica playing football, another rowing crew, another enrolled himself in a cooking school in China. All this sounds intellectual and eccentric. But when you sit down with these guys, they are without exception just down-to-earth, nice guys. Smiling. Finding their way in the world. Endearing. Sincere. Polite. Personable.

It's a great place to work and study and strive and grow for many reasons, but the calibre of kids Luke has found himself in community with is one of the most important.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Dear Blog I Have Neglected Thee

Somewhere in the dislocation of life this summer, we dropped off the blog habit.  I've tried to think about why this happened.  I wasn't in Africa, so I felt I had less to say. I was also off-line most of the summer.  Scott was managing alone, and feeding the kids was more of a priority than writing.  Luke went back to visit Uganda so we begged him for a guest column, unsuccessfully.  Mostly I think this silence simply reflects the season.  From late June to early August, I spent forty days in solitude, quiet, inward and upward but little outward.  Blogging is my usual way to process life, and for this period I was instead processing with God alone.

I found that reading through stacks and stacks of old letters, praying and thinking and walking, offered the space for grief and healing that had been squeezed out in the two years since we left Uganda, squeezed out by medicine and the ongoing noise of normal family life and other good things.  I needed time to reflect, and am extremely grateful that thanks to many people's sacrifice this was granted.  In the process I wrote several hundred pages of what might be a first draft of a book.  It needs a lot of work.

Now we are only a day away from the end of August, and turning a corner into the next season of life.  Yesterday we left Luke in New Haven, having helped him move into his dorm suite.  Since we've been absent for two years he really doesn't need that help, but it gave us pleasure to buy IKEA pillows and fresh sheets, to take him and his buddies to dinner, to discuss the merits of biochemistry and swahili classes.  As I write this we're on a flight to Denver en route to Caleb's parents' weekend at the USAFA.  In a week we'll be on a flight back to Kenya, thinking about patients and call schedules and soccer games and hospitality. 

I am very thankful for this summer.  For the bond of traveling with Caleb into this adventure of military service, for memorable meals on the coast in Amsterdam and on the porch in West Virginia, for the thrill of his letters arriving and his spirits strengthening, for the firm hug and proud tour on acceptance day.  I'm thankful for time in August with my mom and sister and family, for movies with my buddy Micah, for seeing my niece and nephews in their home, for talking and dreaming with them.  For brief, precious hours with some of the people we served with in Uganda, those bonds never ceasing, those loyal friends willing to meet off a highway here or there:  Michelle, Ashley, JD (with Joe, Louisa, Nate, and Savannah!), Heather, Joanna, Sarah and Nathan.  For a week in Norway with Scott's sister and family, getting in touch with the Myhre cultural heritage, unlimited wild berries, August snow,  steep fjords, museums and hikes.  For a chance to reconnect with Jack and Julia in this long time away from Africa.  For Scott returning to America with me for the college visits.  For our supportive church, for meals with friends, borrowed cars, generosity beyond measure, especially from my mom.  Because there is always a cost to be paid, and the shared time with Caleb was only granted by missing a huge chunk of my other kids' lives.  They are troopers.

If there are any readers who have not given up on us, let this serve as a notice by faith that we are back.  If you'll still have us . . . 

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Acceptance Day

Today Caleb went from "Basic Cadet" in boot camp to "Cadet 4th Class", officially accepted at the USAFA. 
This was a day of pomp and precision, honor and commitment.  The entire USAFA turned out to march in parade, complete with flags and band, two A10 "Warthogs" flying over with perfect timing at the exact moment they were to appear, and even cannon fire.
I arrived early to get just the right space in the stands where Caleb's squadron would be.  Met nice dedicated parents of other young men who flew in to do the same.
The placement was perfect, but the cadets faced the field, so I mostly saw Caleb from behind . .
That's his elbow, in case you didn't recognize it, middle column, second row in, just in front of young lady with bun.

There was a speech by a member of the class of 1966 (their predecessors by 50 years), some vows, all very patriotic and impressive.  They promise not to lie, cheat, or steal, or tolerate amongst them those who do, to live honorably, and do their duty. 
All that was very inspiring, but not nearly as inspiring as actually walking ONTO that field and getting a big hug from my boy.  I am so so so so thankful for everyone who is suffering to allow me to be here this summer.  I can't say enough how important it has felt to my heart to be here to write letters and pray from the same state and time zone, to be cheering on at in-processing and acceptance.  THANK YOU SCOTT MYHRE and everyone else.

This is another missionary-kid--he didn't go to RVA but his siblings did, so it was nice of him to come find us.  Caleb MacLachlan, thanks.

This is Caleb with his roommate from basic training, who is sent here by the military from Senegal.  I kind of like the way Africa just rises up to find you no matter where you go.  They enjoyed playing football (soccer) together.

From the parade ground we were allowed to walk into the cadet academic area, which is normally off limits to mere mortal civilians like me.  This is the "Core Values" ramp and arch.  Integrity first, service before self, and excellence in all you do. 

 From there we headed for the dorm.
Today the 4th class cadets could walk normally with parents--as soon as we left, they have to spend the rest of the year RUNNING everywhere they go ON THE WHITE MARBLE LINES in the terrazzo.  My image is that of a little vole or mouse hunted by a huge hawk, scurrying from safety zone to safety zone, reluctant to emerge in the open.  I'm actually serious that it is a big perk that Caleb's dorm is very close to the dining hall.  Less time outside=less chance for abuse.
The hall, this is one HUGE building.

The actual room, Caleb has the top bunk but he doesn't actually sleep on it, instead he sleeps on the floor, which saves him a few minutes of life in the mornings because the bed stays made.  His two new roommates he likes a lot.  One is an American football player from Texas.  I was blessed to hang out with his parents after we all said goodbye.

Two of his "cadre", the upper-class men and women who were their leaders during basic training, pinned shoulder boards on.  Caleb has one wavy stripe now.  Lowest on the totem pole until next year's class comes.  His squadron is 27 (of total 40, about 100-120 in each, just over 4000 total cadets), see the Thunderbird symbol.  This little detail is like the moment I walked into the Yale chapel and the organist was playing a hymn that was very significant to me and specially connected to Luke.  For Caleb, I really am happy he's a Thunderbird.  My dad was a huge Thunderbird CAR fan, had an early one, and later a restored one.  We had glasses with this symbol at my home. 
Then, oh joy, we had almost two hours to just talk and eat a picnic.  I drove us up to this overlook on campus.  Caleb was able to greet all siblings, Scott, and a good friend from RVA, on the phone.  I learned some fun things as he thought of what to say about the last two months.  The first week was the worst, and he's learning that transition is just HARD.  He actually really LIKED the second part, when other people were stressed about living outside in tents and being dirty, he was in his element. The obstacles courses, running, shooting, all of that was more fun for him.  The physical part he did well.  He ran the fastest 1.5 miles in his squadron of over 100 kids.  He was selected, he thought, to do the parachute jump (only the top kid in each squadron on the whole physical fitness test gets to do this) but at the last minute, after he had signed the papers and received instruction, he was told he was an alternate, losing the place to a girl who did better relative to the female standards (she's a recruited gymnast athlete).  Still I'm proud of him for working so hard to be fit.  He's probably the ONLY basic cadet who GAINED ten pounds.  Yes, they made him drink energy boosts three times a day, and he thought the food was good and abundant.  My African kids get to American college food and think it's fantastic.  So he put on a good bit of muscle.  He thinks he may be the youngest kid there.  He's homesick for us, and for Africa, but determined to persevere.  He thinks about who he is, and I like who he is and who he's becoming.

Then we carried school supplies, a printer, underwear, goodies and the GUITAR (allowed at the last minute) to his dorm room, and  had to say goodbye again.  I know that was hard for both of us.  It was so good to see and feel him in the flesh and hear a bit about his life.  I do think he has made some friends, and found things to laugh about.  I also know it is wearing to be constantly graded, constantly competitive, always at risk of being abused, never quite sure of what is next or how to act and react.  When I came out into the real world again, I realized what an elite group is there, every single person healthy and smart and strong and courageous.  It's definitely not the real world but we pray it is a training ground for those who would influence the world for good, rescue the weak, stand for honor.

Grief is always so tiring.  So off to rest and recover, but very very thankful.