I Remember…

On 25 June 1996, I was an Airman First Class stationed at Kirtland Air Force Base in New Mexico. I’d been in the Air Force for two years, but had not yet been tagged to go on a deployment.  I sat in the lounge at the hospital and watched news reports about a horrible terrorist incident in Saudi Arabia, where Airmen in a dorm area known as Khobar Towers had been directly targeted.  It wasn’t easy for my 20-year-old, fairly sheltered, self to reconcile that these were my brothers and sisters who had been killed or injured. 

We lost 19 Airmen that night; 17 were enlisted.  Hundreds, and I mean hundreds, were injured.  Over 500 purple hearts were awarded for that night alone. This event changed lives.  For forever. 

Fast forward 26 years to 2022. This last week, the museum where I work, was able to host over 200 guests who were members at the Khobar Towers, family members of those hurt and those killed, as well as currently serving members representing the KIA units.  It was the first time in Air Force history that we specifically honored those who had survived the events of that horrific night.  

The courage of the survivors is also covered with mourning.  Mourning of the loss of dreams, opportunities, and loved ones.  In Matthew 5:4, Jesus said “Blessed are those who mourn.” It’s appropriate to call on this scripture when our hearts hurt from loss.  

It’s also appropriate for us to recognize that Jesus was talking about mourning over our sinful nature; not just loss.  In response to understanding our brokenness, we may be sad.  But it allows us to see our desperate need for God and that if our sin is not addressed, it keeps us from Him.  The separation from God, due to sin, is worthy of mourning.  

The true good news is that God has provided a way to maneuver through the mourning of sin towards Him.  It is belief that Jesus died on the cross for our sins and that by accepting that free gift, we can have the offered grace and forgiveness of our sins. The way to happiness is often through sadness.  The road to rejoicing is often through mourning.  When you come to the cross, you full comprehend just how happiness and mourning can co-exist.  

Each year the anniversary of Khobar Towers is hard for hundreds of families, friends, and survivors.  As I keep in mind their hearts, I am grateful for Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:4.

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”

I remember them…and pray they have comfort.

~Emily

Leadership Lessons: Moving Up The Banquet Table

Have you ever wondered how some people are given a promotion over others?  Was it because of their merit? Their work ethic? Their personality? Or was it at the expense of others? Was it because their own ambitions drove them to promotion regardless of those around them? 

In the military environment (I’m confident that this is likely true in any corporate environment), I’ve witnessed this set of questions in regards to leadership.  Specifically, when someone is given increased responsibility and/or rank, those around the leader will often remark that they are either well-deserving of the promotion, or they will comment that they were moved ahead as a result of stepping on others to get there (this self-promotion can be overt or subtle, but it eventually shows itself for self-promotion, given enough time).  It does not appear that there is an in-between, but rather only the two extremes.  One leaves the followers happy, the other leaves them scratching their heads.  

How does one end up in the category of leading the happy followers?  How do you end up being promoted based on merit, rather than circumstances that are at the expense of others?  

In Luke 14:8-10, we see the example of waiting for an invitation to move to a place of honor.

“When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for someone more distinguished than you may have been invited by him, and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this man,’ and then in disgrace you proceed to occupy the last place.  But when you are invited, go and recline at the last place so that when the one who has invited you comes, he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher’; then you will have honor in the sight of all who are at the table with you.”

In this parable, Jesus noticed how guests have ranked themselves at a wedding banquet.  Through this example, He is teaching the concept of humility vs pride.  In human nature it is easy to place oneself higher than others may see you in status or positional power.  Jesus is teaching us specifically to allow for the host to choose where we sit at the table, lest we embarrass ourselves (and those around us) with our own false sense of importance.  

Proverbs 25:6-7 (NASB) cross-references this concept.  

“Do not boast in the presence of the king, And do not stand in the same place as great people: For it is better that it be said to you, ‘Come up here,’ Than for you to be placed lower in the presence of the prince, whom your eyes have seen.” 

These scriptures remind me of a time when I attended a family wedding.  The ushers seated me in the 2nd row of the groom side, as part of the family.  I noticed many rows behind me Uncle Kevin and Aunt Barbara, who by rights of being in the groom’s family, should be in the same row with me.  I waved to them and invited them to come sit with me.  As they moved to join me, I distinctly remember Aunt Barbara saying that it was better for them to have sat at the back and waited for the invitation to sit in the family row.  

In a seemingly innocent conversation, two people illustrated a real-life example of living out the parables that Jesus taught us about humility and waiting for the invitation.  Clearly it was an impactful showcase of this lesson, if years later I can still distinctly recall the scenario.  

Something as simple as waiting for an invitation to be moved to a position of honor, translates to humility.  It would serve us well to remember this in our daily lives, in the military promotions, in corporate American, or our political parties.  

Our promotions to the head of the banquet table should be at the host’s discretion…not because of our own self-promotion.

~Emily

AC-47 Testimonies

For those who don’t know, I work as a curator at a military museum.  While we have fantastic displays and precious artifacts on display, my favorite thing about working there is interacting with veterans and their families.  This last week we hosted a group of Vietnam Veterans who had each been involved with one particular aircraft; the AC-47, known as Spooky or Puff the Magic Dragon. 

During the ceremony, one of the pilots of this aircraft during the Vietnam conflict was the guest speaker.  His speech, titled “Yesterday, Today, & Tomorrow” started with what it meant to be part of the “Spooky Brotherhood.”  

He discussed where they were yesterday and when each of their yesterday’s began.  

Then he recapped how they came to design monuments, selected where they were placed, and how they have reunions.  It was the today portion of his speech.

Finally, he spoke about their tomorrows.  At that pivotal point in his speech he told them he was concerned about their salvation and if he would see them as a brotherhood in their tomorrows.  He launched into sharing the Gospel and challenging them to get right with the Lord.  

I could not believe my ears!  You see, it’s rare at a military event for the Gospel to be presented in such an overt manner.  I was so proud of him for his boldness to speak truth in a military group.

He was truly living Romans 1:16 (NIV) “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile.”

While I’m not ashamed of the gospel, there are plenty of situations I find myself in where I lose the opportunity to share. Maybe it’s the timing, or maybe it’s my own fear of rejection, or maybe it’s the atmosphere.  Regardless of why I don’t share, it’s a lost chance to win souls for heaven. 

I love that this Vietnam Vet took the step to care for the eternal souls of those in the audience.  He was not ashamed…not at all.

~Emily

Pride, Love & A Christian Walk

“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” Romans 3:23-24 (NIV)

For nearly a year, I’ve been researching and preparing to conduct a presentation, during Pride Month 2021, on the history of LGBTQ+ Airmen in the United States Air Force.  Last week I gave this presentation, which was filled with history, policy changes, and individual stories of Airmen who have served in the military from the 1940s through today.  As a note of consideration to the reader, I’m a historian who works as a curator of an Air Force Historic Research Institute and museum.  My job is to tell the story of Airmen and research the history of the Air Force.  

In the days leading up to the presentation, I started getting nervous.  It was an honor to be asked to speak and public speaking seems to be a universal “get nervous” activity.  Likewise, I wanted to present accurate information and not go on the record with any incorrect policies or historic examples. 

So, I asked a several people for prayers in that last week of practicing and refining slides.

I was shocked at the responses to these prayer requests.  While there were some positive and encouraging Christians in my corner, the overwhelming response was skepticism, questioning, and even one that expressed outrage.  How can I call myself a Christian and endorse LGBTQ+ people?!?!?!?

Let me say this part again…it’s my job to tell Airman Stories.  All Airman stories.  

But I need to further expand on the rationale behind this presentation so let me also declare this:

It’s my job…my responsibility…my task, as a Christian, to LOVE humans. 

1 John 4:7-8 (NIV) states, “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.”

In this passage, John is specifically addressing loving other believers with the love of God. While that seems easy to say, the reality is that the believer is just as unlovable as the non-believer. The believer and non-bleiever are both sinful. Therefore, as a believer, I hold fast to the thought that Christ has an expectation that I will love other believers…regardless of it I agree or disagree with them…regardless of if I like their personality or not…regardless of it I sin like them or not.

The non-believer deserves love and respect, as well. How do Christians expect to present the Gospel without being kind and respectful towards others? How do we show Christ’s love for all, when we aren’t being loving ourselves? 

Ephesians 4:32 (NIV) states, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”

I may not love the sinful choices or behaviors of someone.  I don’t like that my friend stole a pen from the bank, or that my child told a lie, or that I said a swear word.  According to scripture, it is absolutely appropriate to dislike sinful thoughts, deeds, and words.  But scripture is also VERY clear that we are to love our brothers and sisters, as Christ loved the church.  

I acknowledge that there are Christians who absolutely believe that the LGBTQ+ community is wrong in their sinful lifestyles.  Hence the reason so many felt they could speak negatively about my prayer request in regards to the presentation.

I also acknowledge that we have all sinned and fall short of the glory of God.  

All of us.  All of us.  ALL OF US.  For those in the back, ALL of us have sinned…so why are we judging someone else with such absolutes and harshness?  

Perhaps it’s time to stop judging one another based on our sins and start really loving one another past those sins, just as Christ loved us. 

~Emily

Dear Army Dad,

Memorial Day, 2021

Dear Army Dad,

Last week I was driving behind you, when I saw your non-descript truck with the personalized license plates: ARMYDAD.  Initially I thought, “What a proud Father that must be to get a personalized plate.”  Then I felt an overwhelming urge to pray for you.

I know that may sound random, but I typically use my 30-40-minute morning commute to chat with God. It’s not that unusual for me to pray for strangers while driving.

The unusual part was that I started to cry.  While praying for you and a hypothetical Army Mom, I also started praying for your Soldier.  I prayed for tactics and knowledge in any situation. I prayed for health and well-being.  I prayed for safety. I prayed for peace and tranquility…for the Soldier and for the parents.  Because John 14:27 (NASB) say, “Peace I leave you, my peace I give you; not as the world gives, do I give to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled, nor fearful,” I know that your family is able to have that peace. 

I don’t know you, your family, or your Soldier, but I do know that I would never want a parent to face losing a child on a battlefield.  One who is proud enough to get a personalized plate, probably could handle a loss…but it’s not a loss I want you to have. 

2 Timothy 2:3 (NASB) reads, “You therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful people who will be able to teach others also. Suffer hardship with me, as a good soldier of Christ Jesus.  No soldier in active service entangles himself in the affairs of everyday life, so that he may please the one who enlisted him.”

On this Memorial Day, I know that there are parents, siblings, spouses, friends and countless others who are mourning the loss of their military members.  Take comfort in knowing you are not alone…I will stand with you and suffer the hardship in Christ while continuing to pray for you.

Army Dad, keep being proud, keep parenting, and keep praying.  I will too.

~Emily (USAF, Retired)

Promotion Responsibilities & Expectations

Today, my sweet friend, Nancy will promote to Chief Master Sergeant in the United States Air Force. 

As many around the military know, this promotion is the highest grade an enlisted member can attain and only 1% of the military will make it to this particular rank.  With this promotion, comes much responsibility…and expectation.

There is an expectation that a Chief will be knowledgeable.  They will correct poor behavior and praise good.  They will advise, they will mentor, they will excel, they will speak well, they will encourage others, they will say the unpopular things…they will support other Chiefs.  These expectations, as well as countless others can be a burden to the one responsible for maintaining them.  

In Genesis 41:1-45, we see Joseph receiving a promotion from Pharaoh….and we know that he also had great responsibilities and expectations placed upon him.  

For instance, in Genesis 41:37-45, Pharaoh not only promotes Joseph to second-in-command of Egypt, he specifically tasks Joseph with preparing for the coming famine.  Based on previous verses, we know that Joseph is humble and repeatedly requests assistance from the Lord.  He confesses his sin and inability to meet challenges.  If we do that in our workplaces, we create an environment that attributes success to God, rather than ourselves.  

Joseph’s promotion brought overt signs of his new position of leadership.  He was offered fine clothes, official transportation, a signet ring, a new Egyptian name…and even an Egyptian spouse.  His response to these trapping could have been prideful.  However, Joseph exhibited great restraint from a worldly perspective and allowed God to receive the glory.  In short, Joseph gets a ton of stuff simply by being promoted.

In the modern military, this is true of the promotion to Chief Master Sergeant.  You’ve earned the most stripes…recognizable from a distance. You have an official parking spot at certain locations on base.  There is a reverence for the title.  You may get a bigger office or a government paid smart phone.  You even receive the new name of “Chief” and when the word Chief is mentioned, those who hold this title will respond.  This title and name “Chief” stays with you even into retirement. 

Handling promotions with all these types of extras is hard. Joseph remained humble by continuously falling back on the lessons he learned in childhood…but more than that, he also remembered where the true credit belonged: God, the Father Almighty.

When one makes Chief in the Air Force, they will often give credit to those before them who mentored them. They will acknowledge previous supervisors and mentors…they may even acknowledge those they’ve personally led.  They will thank family and friends.  And some will credit God for His hand in their promotion.  This is applicable to any job…not just the military.  

Regardless of the promotion, the expectations, or the trappings that mark the new position, leadership is difficult. It’s a challenge that stretches each person’s humbleness vs. pride.  Yet, if we look to the newly promoted leadership of Joseph, we can glean hope that it’s not an insurmountable challenge.  

While surrounded by other Chief Master Sergeants, today will mark the day that Nancy takes on the challenge.  Today marks the day she begins to comprehend a little of what Joseph faced under Pharaoh.  

I can’t wait to see how she excels as a leader and as a sister Chief!

~Emily

Wreaths Across America

I had the privilege of laying wreaths at Arlington National Cemetery last Saturday.  As an Air Force museum curator and advocate for enlisted history, I had a list of Airmen that I wanted to visit while I was at the cemetery. Despite being ready to walk miles in the rain laying wreaths, I wasn’t ready for the emotional reaction I had to visiting some of these graves.  I started crying at the headstones of Airmen I had met and those I’d never met.  I was truly surprised by my tears.

After the emotional morning, I did a little digging on the history of the Christmas wreath.

– Wreaths are typically evergreen as a symbol of the strength of life

– Holly symbolizes immortality

– Cedar symbolizes strength and healing

– Red of the ribbon is the bloodshed (some say by militaries; others by Christ)

– In ancient Rome & Greece, wreaths were a sign of victory of achievement

– By the 16th century, Christians in Germany used wreaths as the hope in Christ

All of these facts about the Christmas wreath seem so fitting for the fallen heroes at our National Cemeteries.

Wreaths Across America is a non-profit organization that started in 2007 as a means to honor our fallen war heroes at National Cemeteries.  Each year they coordinate the wreath-laying in all 50 states, Puerto Rico and 24 countries around the world.  https://www.wreathsacrossamerica.org

Their mission includes three simple words:

Remember. Honor. Teach.

In remembering fallen military members at Arlington in learning the meaning of the wreath, I found that I focused on the three-word mission statement.  “Remember. Honor. Teach.”

Beautiful words about our military members, which are also applicable to our Christian faith.

As we head into the final weeks of madness leading to Christmas, let’s take a moment to reflect this week on what God did for us by allowing his only Son to come to earth to die for us.  Let’s remember, honor and teach this Christmas season.

~Emily

Snow Graves

No Boundary Society

I went to a funeral at Arlington National Cemetery last week.  As you would expect, it was a somber experience filled with military honors and traditions.  When we were departing, we noticed two young people taking a “selfie” with a coffin in the background.

To say I was shocked was an understatement.

Is this where we are in society? We take selfies at funerals?  We videotape young children in fights? We try to be the 1st to post accidents on social media? Rather than becoming a first responder, we want to be the first reporter?

Have we lost all common sense or are we in a spiral where we’ve failed to teach others boundaries?

The Bible’s book of Judges illustrates the mess that humans can make when we lack boundaries.   “Everyone was doing what was right in his own eyes” Judges 21:25. This was a time in Israel when there wasn’t a king who was able to set the structure for society to follow.  Thus, everyone starts making their own structure rather than turning to God for structure.

Essentially we start to see a scenario when man’s “anything-goes” attitude is used in place of God’s stand for what is acceptable and what is not. When we have unstructured thought and behavior, harm results.  Isaiah 5:20-21 warns of what comes to people and nations as a result of this attitude.  “Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; who put darkness for light, and light for darkness; who put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter! Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes, and prudent in their own sight.”

I understand that cultures change and evolve.  In most regards, there are positive advancements; women can vote, slavery was abolished, public school accessible to everyone, liberty granted to all (just as a few examples).

But a lack of boundaries in our nation has allowed cursing on network television, roadside signs of scantily clothed women, questionable music lyrics, ‘PG’ movies that would have been ‘R’ 20 years ago…and selfies at a funeral.

While the world seems to be going nuts, we are blessed to have the book of standards that creates boundaries; the Bible.

At any point that behavior seems questionable, we only need to go back to the Bible.

At any point that we feel boundaries lacking, we only need to go back to the Bible.

At any point we question authority, we only need to go back to the Bible.

I can’t control young selfie-takers; nor can I control what their parents teach them.  I can control myself and what I teach my own child.  I want the Godly boundaries in our life.  I need only go back to the Bible to define those.

~Emily

Society

Regret Reflections at a Funeral

This morning I will attend the funeral of a kind-spirited man that I served with in the military.  I didn’t know him well, but in the few times I worked with him I discovered that he was professional and genuinely nice.

I learned of his death on Facebook. To say I was shocked is an understatement.  The most shocking part?  He’s my age and died of “natural causes.”  That puts your own mortality into perspective when someone in your age bracket dies.

As a result of not knowing him well, I have only one regret about my interactions with him.

I don’t know if he was a Christian.

Lately, that’s one of the first things that comes to my mind when I hear of a tragic accident or death…were they a Christian?

Guess what?  My question is too late.  I should be asking the questions about a person’s belief in Christ prior to hearing about their demise.

This is the type of regret that lingers, even when I understand I can’t rewind time to ask the question.  This type of regret often motivates us into action.

In the New Testament, we see that Paul was a determined persecutor of Christians prior to his own conversion (Acts 9:1, Galatians 1:13, 1 Timothy 1:13).  After Paul becomes a Christ-follower, he has lingering regrets about his bloody actions against Christians (Acts 22:16).

In Ephesians 3:8, he titles himself “the least of all the saints” and in 1 Corinthians 15:9 he confesses he’s “the least of the apostles.”  He’s claimed those titles as a result of the guilt he has regarding his past violence against the church.

The reflections spurred by guilt, caused Paul to initiate mission campaigns to preach the Gospel of Christ.  He endured persecution himself but became a stronger advocate for Christ as a result of being driven into action based on his guilt.

What lesson is there to be learned through guilt?

To the degree that regret can be fixed, we should fix it.  Paul took his guilt and began sharing the Good News.  My regret over not knowing someone’s status with Christ should spur me towards sharing the Good News as well.

Don’t allow the reflections of guilt at a funeral be for nothing.

~Emily

Lest we regret-2 copy

 

 

 

Transitions: Change and Growth

I am overwhelmed by all the changes that happened in my life this last week.  I officially retired from the Air Force after 24 years, 10 months, and 26 days (would it just be easier to continue saying 25 years?!?!?!).  That means I was accepted into the “blue card club”; AKA I got my retired military ID card.

As a result of that transition, I was given 30 days to establish formal residency in the state of Alabama.  That means I gave up my Oregon driver’s license this week, which I might add had a 28-year-old-Emily photo and weight.  I traded that in for a Jabba-The-Hut photo with a 25-pound weight gain on a black and white temporary Alabama ID.

This week also brought a switch in health care insurance to retired status for my whole family, as well as registration for voting.  The next Alabama voting season will literally be the first time I have ever voted in an actual polling booth and not through an absentee ballot.

Overwhelming transitions that changed many of my self-identifiers.

*No longer active duty…now retired.

*No longer an Oregonian…now an Alabamian (is that the correct term??!?!?!).

*No longer insured for free…now paying lots for healthcare.

*No longer absentee voter…now a poll voter.

While I was feeling overwhelmed this week, our good-good God took time to remind me that we are all in transition.  Sometimes those transitions are overwhelming and sometimes they seem minor, but those transitions are always blessings from God. Those transitions grow us into stronger women…stronger wives & mommas…stronger friends…stronger Christians.

The book of Joshua is filled with amazing reminders that we are not the only ones who have faced transition.  I would argue that after forty years of wandering through the wilderness, God’s people were facing transition as they prepared to enter the promised land.  They faced transition when Moses died.  They faced a transition when Moses’ assistant, Joshua, was placed in charge.

Joshua faced a life-changing transition from the support team to a leader.

As always, God provided guidance.  He told Joshua, “Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful” (Joshua 1:7-8 NIV).

God’s words of direction became a foundation of Joshua’s leadership.  Our Father went on to state, “Have I not commanded you Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9 NIV).

Joshua’s leadership status and mission were huge transitions in comparison with me getting a couple of new ID cards.  Yet, it illustrates that transitions happen to us all. Large and small transitions happen every day.

Your identity may change.  Your status may change. Your circumstance may change. But remember this; overwhelming or not, His hand is with us in every transition.

~Emily

Military