Tag Archives: service

A Fist Full of Poppies and a Heart Full of Shame


hatSometimes I get tired, frustrated and homesick during my seemingly long stints away from my family, while traveling for work. May has been one of those months with a lot of travel and an equal amount of homesickness. Fortunately, the majority of my time working this month was spent in the Missouri Veterans Commission in their homes for veterans and it was here I met an old soldier. It was he who reminded me that I have no actual concept of what being tired, frustrated or homesick really is.

He sat close to the nurses’ station, where we were training the staff on how to use the electronic medication administration software. He was sitting in a wheelchair. He asked for a warm blanket, which a staff member tucked around his stooped shoulders. He thanked the young lady with sincere gratitude and then I overheard him reciting lines from the poem, The Golden Years: “I cannot see, I cannot pee, I cannot chew, I cannot screw, the golden years are here at last and the golden years can kiss my ass.” His laugh was infectious.

Later that day, I had returned to the nurses’ station to check on the progress with the electronic medication pass.   He was sitting in his wheelchair. His US Navy cap had fallen to the floor and I watched as he strained in vain to reach it. I excused myself from my trainees and retrieved it for him and returned it to its rightful place. He thanked me with the same gratitude he had expressed over the warm blanket. I said, “I believe it is you who deserves the thanks. Thank you for your service, Sir.” His skin was thin and nearly transparent beneath the bill of his cap, but his eyes were shining.

He told me he served in the US Navy during World War II. I shared with him that my grandpa had also fought in WWII, but that he had served in the Army. He smiled and said he wouldn’t hold that against him and once again—that laugh. He shared with me that he loved the men he served with, but many of the names he has forgotten; the faces he never will. He grew quiet and

Vernon Thomure WWII Veteran, Hero, and Awesome Grandpa

Vernon Thomure
WWII Veteran, Hero, and Awesome Grandpa

I thought maybe he had fallen asleep, but when he looked up, his shining eyes were filled with tears, and he continued, “There are some things I wish I could forget. Our ship was hit in April, 1945, and there was so much water and so much blood. It seemed like more blood than water, if you can believe that. We were in the middle of the ocean with a hole blown in the side of our ship. You would think there would have been more water, but it sure didn’t seem like it. I still see all that blood and all those faces of men who were my brothers.”

The tears had made their way down his cheeks and the lump in my throat occluded me from speaking, which was a blessing, because I couldn’t find words to fill the space between us. I tentatively reached out and covered his vein-streaked pale hand with mine. After a few moments, he looked up and said, “I am sorry, young lady. I didn’t mean to start crying.” I told him I didn’t mean to make him so sad. He smiled and said, “Some things are just sad. I think what would be even sadder is that if nobody remembered.”

Today I followed two 30-something men out of Wal-Mart and they were chatting and talking and a veteran with the Buddy Poppies was standing at the exit. He buddypoppolitely asked if they would like to make a donation. These men didn’t even acknowledge the veteran or his request. One gave him a sideways glance and then turned his head and they both kept talking and walking. I stuffed a few dollars into the donation can and accepted my Poppy, trying to reflect as much gratitude as I had seen in the eyes of an old soldier when he was given a warm blanket. I thanked him for his service and I headed to my car. Once in my car I placed the poppy on the seat beside me, along with the several others that have accumulated over the last several days. I tried to stamp down the anger I was feeling for the two men who had nothing to offer, even in the way of a thank you and I wondered how many times I had failed to recognize the sacrifices made on behalf of my freedom and my anger dissolved into shame.   Because there are things that are just sad, but what would be even sadder is that if nobody remembered…

In the spirit of the Golden Years Poem, I wrote a few lines for the guys that blew off the veteran at the store today:

He cannot see, he cannot pee, he cannot chew and he cannot screw,

But he is more of a man than either of you.

The golden years don’t discriminate, and you can bet your ass

They show up without warning and they come on fast.

To you he may be an old man with poppy on a stem

But even for jerks like you, he would do it all again.

So enjoy your long weekend, your beer, and big toys

He knows what it takes to separate the men from the boys.


Revelations of a Mzungu’s Heart-Part 1– An Open Letter of Gratitude

Revelations of a Mzungu’s Heart-Part 1– An Open Letter of Gratitude


Preface:  I am not sure if a preface is appropriate for a blog post, but appropriateness isn’t a large part of my repertoire, so on with the preface.   On January 27th, I was having a bad day.  I cannot remember the circumstances. I believe it was a culmination of several things.  I had actually sat down in on my living room sofa and had started to cry and said aloud to myself, “This cannot be all there is to my life”.   Within the hour, I received a text message from my stepdad, Ron that read:  Would you like to take a mission trip to Kampla, Uganda with your angel mother?  Last week of June first week of July.  This is the first of a series of blogs about my experiences while serving in Africa. 

Dear Ron-

It is without question that the “steps” in my life drew the short stick by acquiring me as a stepchild.  I will be the first to acknowledge that I tended to be somewhat of a challenge and that adolescent trend seems to have followed me into adulthood.  There have been many life lessons that you tried unsuccessfully to teach me, as I have made it a staunch habit to ‘learn the hard way’.  You are the sole reason I was able to take the trip to Africa and I wanted to take this opportunity to express to you my sincerest gratitude.

It would be fair to say that I have had a history of producing poor returns on your investments in me, but for what it is worth, I wanted to share with you a few of the revelations that were awakened in my soul along this journey.


1.        My mountains have never been mountains.  I am the queen of the molehills.  I am the princess fitfully agonizing over the pea beneath my mattress.   Clawing my way up the perceived summits I have built out of layoffs, wrecked/ruined vehicles, a kitchen with no oven, struggling kids, and dollars that only stretch so-far, I failed to see the blessings surrounding me.  Moving through the red clay roads of Africa, each step became a confirmation of how incredibly easy my climb has been.   It only took lifting up one hungry child and before she had even completely wrapped her rail-thin legs around me and contented herself in drinking my affection… my mountains crumbled.

2.       INXS isn’t just an Australian rock band from the 80s, it is a way of life.  There have been countless times I have stood peering into a fairly stocked refrigerator or shoeskitchen cupboard and declared, “There is nothing here to eat.”  The same goes for a closet full of clothes and I have absolutely nothing to wear.  We had ELEVEN TVs in our home in the recent past!  Being graciously welcomed into Ugandan homes, most which would not even be considered suitable to park a zero-turn mower in, much less serve as an inhabitable dwelling, I could feel the shame ignite in the remains of my humanity.   This internal realization wasn’t the result of how little these people have or how much I have in comparison, it was sparked by the utter thankfulness they had for their meager assets.  These are praises I heard from the lips of those who have to walk a mile or more for clean water, have dirt floors, no electricity, no access to health care, and an AIDS epidemic robbing them of their loved ones at an alarming rate:

“Praise God I have a roof over my head”-Ugandan man wrongly imprisoned

This young boy is 13 and HIV positive.

This young boy is 13 and HIV positive.

testifying in church

“My sister has HIV, but glory to God she hasn’t fallen sick yet”-Ugandan woman, Kathrine.

“Sometimes I don’t have enough food for all the children I care for, but they go to sleep knowing they are safe and loved”-Joel, proprietor of an orphanage/school for deaf children.

“I prayed for several years that I would get a Bible of my own and today God answered my prayer”-Ugandan woman, Harriet.

I hope that my spirit will never extinguish this knowing.  I am working daily to be thankful for all that I have and to be mindful of that which I need and that which I do not.


3.       My joy has often rotted on the vine.  Being introduced to the Ugandan people,photo (2) it became quickly obvious that they are some of the hardest working people on the planet.  For most, it requires continuous strenuous physical labor to provide the basic necessities (food, shelter, clothes).  There are no government subsidies for the poor and struggling in this country and the number who are poor and struggling is staggering.  From the outside looking in, it would appear that these folks have nothing to smile about—yet smile they do… and sing and dance and play the drums and laugh.  They immerse themselves in joy.   I didn’t see any kids running around in $100.00 tennis shoes or tuned into a smart phone or other electronic device, but I saw MANY dance and sing when given a toothbrush.  Nearly every child in Africa gave us the gift of song or dance and not one shrugged off a hug or passed on an opportunity to snuggle in the lap of willing mzungu.  I wash my clothes in a high efficiency washer, I drive to work every day, my family is healthy, I have plenty of food, I have hot showers and indoor plumbing and a nice warm bed.  Even with a life full of amenities, I fail to consistently cultivate joy.  There should be a song on my lips and jig in my step every moment of every day.  I journeyed 8000 miles from home to learn how to be happy right where I am.

So, as I continue to sort through the lessons this journey has taught me, I wanted to begin girlby saying ‘thank you’ for still believing there was enough of my ragged old soul to salvage.  Thanks for answering a call to send me, even when I have disappointed you in the past.  Thanks for knowing, above all, that God had something amazing to teach me.  I pray that this experience will be a springboard to serving others, honoring God, and making you proud of the person I am working hard to become.