Some Thoughts on Augusta and Why Fort Gordon is the Army’s Best Kept Secret

I have been avoiding writing this post for a while now, mainly because I knew the emotions that it would stir and quite honestly, I’m already drained before this move has really even started.

Before we left El Paso, I needed to memorialize our time there and encapsulate all of the blessings and lessons learned during that season. I’m doing it again for Fort Gordon, and I hope to do it every time we move from another place. There is power in reflection, in hunting the good stuff. There’s also power in posterity!

I went back and read my post, “Some Thoughts on El Paso and Why Fort Bliss is the Army’s Best Kept Secret.” I wanted to refresh my memory on the overall message of that reflection, on the format I used to write it, and truly to remember all of those details that now seem like a distant blur.

As we were ending our time in Texas, I thought, “There’s no way I’ll ever forget all of the details about this place, the people, the things God taught me.” And now, three years later, that time has all but faded away.

Maybe that’s how it’s supposed to be. It makes me simultaneously sad and satisfied when the final chapters of my favorite books end. I want to hold on to the story but know that time fades those memories. There are new books to experience and one must set down one plot in order to fully immerse in the next adventure.

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The book called Fort Gordon is now in its denouement; one book coming to an end, another in the queue waiting to be picked up.

If El Paso was my “desert season” of endurance and the testing of my faith, I would say that Augusta has been a time of “green pasture & quiet waters.” We have lacked nothing, the Shepherd has refreshed us here and guided us along the right paths. It has been a season of abundance, fullness, and joy.

When we received our orders to Fort Gordon, I could never have imagined all that would await us here. All I knew was that I was thrilled to be within a few hours’ drive of our families, but this assignment has been oh-so-much-more than a convenient location.

I’d like to take a few moments to highlight some of our Fort Gordon/Augusta/Evans stand-out memories that I will carry with me as we say goodbye. Here’s my Top-Ten List I’ll offer as a record of these years.

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(10) Geography/Proximity:

Augusta is a great location. Hot and humid, yes…but a delightful climate in which to live. No harsh winters. A colorful, temperate autumn. Lots of green grass, blooming azaleas, rivers, creeks, and streams. The deer love it here too. We are on the state line of Georgia nearly touching our sister state, South Carolina.

It’s a moderate sized city with plenty to do in and around town. We’ve loved our little pocket of Evans. I’ve said it a million times, but aside from Ryan driving to work every day and our Sunday chapel service, you’d almost have me convinced we are civilians. Just about all of our needs are met within the confines of Evans and Columbia County.

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Known for its beautiful river, The Masters Tournament, and just being a good Southern city, Augusta holds its own as a great place to live. There’s a wide array of outdoor activities, plenty of history and cultural diversity, a solid medical/educational community, overflowing with churches, and only a few hours’ drive from just about any thing you might like to do.

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(9) Visitors:

Because of its location and proximity to our families, we have had a steady stream of company and I’ve loved it. My parents, Ryan’s parents, and all of our siblings have made MULTIPLE visits to see us and stay with us. We have had more overnight company than we can count as well as many “drive-bys” from friends who have popped in to share a meal and say hello. (All of this in addition to the regular hosting of friends over for dinner, ice-cream, hosting spouse coffees, PWOC prayer group, and Lego Camps.)

It’s been wonderful to be in a place that is “on the way” of many, many folks passing through. It’s been especially meaningful to me that our parents have been close enough to make frequent trips to see our kids participate in their activities.

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My grandmother has been here twice, my aunts, my sister for *multiple* overnight trips, my brother’s family for a few visits, Ryan’s entire family for a Thanksgiving weekend, my entire family for a Christmas weekend, an interrupted Hilton Head vacation, and tons of hangout time.

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Our military friends the Shoffners, the Hines, the Irwins, The Wises, and the Golembiewskis have all come for visits. One of our most loved Chattanooga families, the Wards, made a stop, my friend Emily popped in when visiting her in-laws, and my sister-in-law has come twice when she’s been in town on business. I’m sure I’m forgetting others, but I’ve loved being right off I-20 and being an easy access point for folks.

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(8) The Installation:

This has been a vastly different assignment from Fort Bliss. There we were immersed in military culture, surrounded by many people living a similar life, energized by the op-tempo of a FORSCOM installation. Here, it’s been a little sleepy as a TRADOC/INSCOM post… at least from my spousal perspective.

The chaplain community has been very small and has been variable in its connectedness and opportunities. Our chapel serves mostly single soldiers and retirees although it has been our family’s primary church. I’ve struggled with that to some degree. The spouses group here has been kind, but a somewhat small and disconnected group.

And as for unit opportunities, I’ve been largely on the outside looking in. There are several reasons for this: (1) it’s a new-ish battalion and it was slow going with spouse leadership/FRG; (2) it’s an intelligence unit and most of our time here, Ryan’s office was in a building behind razor wire– his job, non-deploying–his “flock,” lots of civilians and not very family friendly as far as interaction; (3) we live almost half an hour from post.

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I did actively participate in PWOC our first year here; I was the Prayer Coordinator and facilitated a Bible study. Again, also a small operation. I made some great, lasting friendships from that time but due to homeschooling/co-ops/working I didn’t continue on in my direct involvement in the group. (I did attend two retreats and have met up with several PWOC gals over these last years! My friend Gwen has been a treasured, faithful mentor.)

We have had some fun Strong Bonds retreats. From multiple trips to the Great Wolf Lodge in Charlotte to a handful of Hilton Head trips…I’ll say I’m always happy that this is part of Ryan’s job that *does* include the whole family. As a cyber battalion, Ryan has had the chance to include the kids in some opening day showings of movies like Star Wars–the Force Awakens, Rogue One and Captain America Civil War. #nerdmovies

Here at Fort Gordon it has been less of a family affair and more strictly, Ryan’s job.

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(7) Friendships:

This is another area that felt completely different from the last go-around. I have made many, many friends during our time in Augusta. From connections at PWOC, to two different co-ops, to our short time participating in a Stevens Creek small group, to other homeschool moms/Trail Life & AHG connections/sports mamas, to neighborhood pals, my list of what I’d call soul-sisters—heart-friends—those friends I will continue to keep up with because we have connected on a deep level— is a short list.

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I think part of it is that time has taught me that we really do only have so much space in our hearts for these kinds of soul-sisters. I also think that age has taught me that I don’t have as much to give away relationally each time we move. I don’t want to be like this because I want to always be well-invested in my community, but the older I get, the more reserved and introverted I’m becoming. (I can’t decide if this is wisdom or a coping mechanism…possibly both?)

Other reasons for a short list of soul-sisters would include: (1) being in such close proximity to family…we haven’t had to make our military community our stand-in family here–we’ve had the real thing; (2) the ages of our kids have brought on a new season of what feels like less girl-time and less opportunity for the “play-dates” of old; (3) during our time here, I have been very engaged in other pursuits…also a blessing, but surely a reason that there has been less “friend margin.”

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(6) Recreation:

Augusta has been a wonderful place for lots of recreation for us, both organized and personal.

During our time here Thomas has played rec-league baseball for several seasons, had a short-lived stint on a travel baseball team. He’s play Upward basketball, flourished tremendously in his Trail Life Troop, enjoyed a great year participating in Social. He’s practically lived in our driveway shooting hoops. He and Ryan have gone golfing and fishing many times.

Mae has played Upward basketball, had several successful seasons of rec-league soccer, tried out the swim team for Stratford. She really enjoyed American Heritage Girls. Kate has been an Upward cheerleader and basketball player, tried soccer, and found her niche as a gymnast. She also tried out swim team and has flourished as an American Heritage Girl. The girls and I have spent many an hour shopping the stores and taking short little road trips all around us.

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All three of our children have experienced the driving range, swimming, fishing, swamping, hiking, University of Georgia athletics, homeschool PE at the YMCA, neighborhood bike rides, playtime at the parks and splash pad, drive-in movies, VBS at Grace. We’ve seen tons of nearby attractions like museums, plays, the Nutcracker ballet, made literally hundreds of library trips, milkshake and fro-yo runs, saw the circus when it came to town, camped in a camper out at Clarks Hill, enjoyed beach days there too, and our kids have made a home-away-from-home in our backyard with their outstanding forts.

Ryan got a kayak here, has been able to fish and hunt like he loves, and he was lucky enough to get awarded Masters’ passes two years in a row. Together we’ve enjoyed walks and talks at the Savannah Rapids, around our awesome neighborhood, and a year of monthly date nights in 2015. I’ll miss my walking buddy, Beth and our long walks and talks about life’s most important matters. Ryan and I learned the West Coast Swing…a life skill that will carry us far.

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(5) Education:

Make no mistake, one of the BEST benefits of living in this community is the value this state and our area in particular places on education. The public schools here are OUTSTANDING… so good, that we *almost* put our kids in. I’ve loved homeschooling, but if I knew then what I know now, I’d be tempted to put all three in the Columbia Country schools if I had it to do over again.

Georgia values education and it is evidenced by the resources both the schools and community have at their disposal. I could write a book (literally) on the awesomeness of our local public library, and seriously will probably write them a letter of thanks as an act of goodwill.

Our first year here, we enjoyed a fine arts co-op at Westside Baptist Church. In year two, we sought out a more academically rigorous co-op with Veritas at Westminster Presbyterian Church. Beyond the co-ops, the Central Savannah River Area Home Educators Association (CSRA HEA) has been nothing short of stellar.

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The opportunities we have had through this organization have been limitless and aided greatly in our overall enjoyment of homeschooling. From skate days, to spelling and geography bees, to hosting our own Lego Camps twice, we have had so much fun participating in many fun and academic engagements. We’ve done a tennis clinic, multiple lectures and classes presented by the NSA, field trips both organized and on our own.

The kids have done their standardized tests twice and Thomas participated in the Duke TIP program. We’ve enjoyed the Reed Creek Nature Center, library classes and events, taken the Red Cross babysitting course, the Williams Sonoma baking class, and learning about the six poisonous snakes of Georgia by one Brenda Bertross of the Mistletoe State Park.

In the surrounding areas we have explored many attractions. Between military life and our wanderlust for travel, I know homeschooling has been the right choice during these Georgia years. We have had three very successful years of W.A.C.K. and I’m grateful for the community around us that has enabled that to be so.

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(4) Travel:

I’m using my Instagram account to help me here, but let me give you a little history of all of the trips we’ve taken in the past three years en route and since we’ve been at Fort Gordon:

2014:

Pine Cove Family Camp || Callaway Gardens anniversary trip || Athens for the G-Day game || Columbia to the EdVenture Museum || Hilton Head for fall break || Cleveland for Ryan to speak at PTS || Charlotte for Great Wolf Lodge Strong Bonds || Tennessee Christmas visit

2015:

Athens for the Georgia GymDawgs || Washington, GA to visit the Callaway Plantation || Charlotte for Great Wolf Lodge Strong Bonds || Athens for Georgia Baseball || St. Simons for PWOC retreat || Tennessee for Easter || Monetta, SC for the drive in movies || Tennessee for 4th of July || Swainsboro, GA for new employee training || Fort Myers, FL family beach vacation || Hilton Head for Strong Bonds || Chattanooga for my 20 year high school reunion || Athens for a football game || Hilton Head for fall break || Jekyll Island for Nana’s 60th birthday || Washington, D.C. for the Witherspoon Awards || Tennessee for Thanksgiving || Atlanta to meet Jamie and Emily || Atlanta to visit Mere and the American Girl store || Tennessee for Christmas

2016:

Columbia, SC for Emily Irwin’s wedding reception || Tennessee for spring break & Easter || Monetta, SC for the drive in movies || Atlanta for the Teach Them Diligently homeschool conference with my sister || Columbia, SC for a meal with the Irwins || Hawaii with Ryan for work || Williamsburg, VA with Ryan’s folks || Belton, SC for Trail Life Camp || Hilton Head for Strong Bonds || Nashville for the COG General Assembly || Fort Myers, FL family beach vacation || Chattanooga for my uncle David’s funeral || Hilton Head for fall break || Columbia, SC to speak at Fort Jackson PWOC || Chattanooga for my mom’s birthday weekend || Fayetville, NC to speak at Fort Bragg PWOC || Atlanta for Roberson Christmas || Tennessee for Christmas

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2017:

Athens for the Georgia GymDawgs || Gatlinburg for the Roberson family trip || Atlanta to see my siblings/Zoo Atlanta/World of Coca-Cola || Savannah, GA for mine and Ryan’s 40th birthdays || St. Simons for PWOC retreat || Washington, D.C. for spring break || Atlanta for Mother’s Day || Tennessee for Memorial Day…

I absolutely LOVE to travel and on the hard days when I’m ready to throw in the towel on this whole military life, I’m not sure I’m ready to render this amount of travel opportunities that planting in one community would surely require.

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(3) Personal Opportunity:

Since you’re already almost 2500 words in, you realize that this post is mostly for me…it’s my way of documenting and preserving memories of our Fort Gordon assignment. It should be no surprise that I’m taking a moment to enumerate my own opportunities that have been life-giving to me here.

I’ll start with the AMAZING opportunity I had to take a job with East Georgia State College here on the Augusta University campus. It was a real stretch to teach a full-time load for three semesters (while also homeschooling), but that time was so enriching and formative for me. It reminded me of my own passions and strengths outside my motherhood calling. I really connected with my students, enjoyed the professional collegiality, was grateful to earn a nice paycheck as well as an Outstanding Faculty Award for the Humanities department. It was a good run while it lasted.

Fort Gordon will also represent a time for me that I spent learning a lot more about who I am. I really dug down deep and invested time in taking some spiritual gifts inventories, training on the Clifton Strengths Finder EYS assessment, taking the Myers-Briggs and Enneagram tests. I truly feel like I know myself better. This knowledge helps me prioritize my time and the investment of my energies.

Another highlight for me, related to learning more about those strengths ^^^ was writing and publishing my first book, Mission Ready Marriage. I recognize its limits, but more than anything I’m proud to have achieved a personal goal I set out to achieve. In the process, I do believe its message has resonated with others. I have since had multiple speaking opportunities arise, including an interview on a national podcast, Oxygen 365. I know I’m not finished writing books. There will be others. There will be new seasons for that too.

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Finally, our time here has been sweet in that it has yielded some neat opportunities in other areas as well. I dug into my genealogy and joined the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR), I attended multiple local author events as well as a fiction writing seminar at the library, and I created my own curriculum for a high school writing class I taught for Veritas.

I’ve steadily been publishing blog posts here, selling original teacher products on TPT and earning a little passive income, and I’ve written regularly for Ungrind, the National Military Family Association, and my friends Dave and Ashley also let me guest-author on their wide Marriage platform. I’ve guest authored for the MILLIE Journal and contributed as a photographer for their Fort Gordon Base Guide.

During all of 2015 I systematically taught our three kids 12 different life-skills under the heading of Teach Them Diligently habit training. I negotiated and bought a car on my own for the second time. I turned 40. I started some mild yoga practice (I want to get even more involved in this) and I gave up dieting and counting calories for the rest of my life (intuitive eating). I’ve come to a place of peace with home decorating (Cozy Minimalist) and have a fairly solid routine that keeps our house company-ready at most times. I’ve kept over a dozen plants alive for three years.

I have continued my use of essential oils, have upped my coffee game with the French press, developed a love for the charcuterie and cheese board, and I’ve read oh-so-many-books. We bought a Tempurpedic mattress and I don’t plan on ever going back to a plain mattress again.

I’ve settled in to who I am, what I like and don’t like and I’m comfortable in my own skin. Georgia helped to refine that. I’m a podcast junkie and Netflix devotee. My hairstylist has opened up a whole new world of masking, not completely covering, my gray hair and I couldn’t be happier. I’ve been daily reminded that I need God’s strength to equip me, his peace to sustain me, and his wisdom to guide me.

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(2) Home:

Obviously this Top Ten list is moving from the technical to the much more personal and so far, as I’ve been writing, it’s felt more like I’ve mostly been reporting facts. We did this… we loved that… Augusta is great.

But as I move into the final two items on my list, my heart is beginning to ache. I feel my emotions lurching and groaning from sheer joy and gratitude to those of nostalgia and that ache of sadness when it is time to say goodbye.

When I attempt to investigate the root and cause of my sadness, I find that I am not sad entirely because of what we are leaving behind here in Augusta. I am also sad because I know of the time and energy it takes to build a home and a life such as the one we have had here at Fort Gordon. At every occasion that it’s time to say goodbye I question whether I have it in me again to start this rebuilding process over.

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To borrow a metaphor from earlier in this post, will I have the head-space and heart-space for another big book of chapters? The Cleveland book (2001-2005) is finished; the Chattanooga book (2005-2011) is finished; the El Paso book (2011-2014) is finished; and soon the Augusta (2014-2017) book will be finished. There’s the short Columbia, SC (2017) novella to add, and then where? Then what? What book will follow these? Will it be a captivating story?

Over the past month I keep having these moments where I try to let my emotions surface, sit with them for a moment, appreciate them for what they are and then let them pass. These waves of emotion mostly hit me when I am at home in my house.

They hit when I was waiting on my parents to arrive late one night, standing in the driveway looking at our house. It hits me when I pull into the garage from being away, when I see the roses planted by someone who lived here before me, when I walk down by the creek and see the kids’ forts, when I sit in my rocker in my bedroom, when I look around at the growing tweens and teenager filling out the couches in my den. It hits me when I’m in the kitchen cooking, setting the table for another meal, scratching out another list on our chalkboard, or sitting under the lights strung on my back porch. It hits me when Ryan and I talk hand in hand about our dreams for the near and distant future.

Sure, I look around at our house from time to time and acknowledge its deficiencies. This house is a rental, so there are needed repairs and updates that drive me nuts. But mostly the overwhelming emotion that hits me is one of gratitude for God’s goodness and faithfulness to us in this home.

It has been a comfort to us. It has been our place of sanctuary and rest. It has been a place of worship, of hospitality, of laughter and tears. It’s been surrounded on the outside by mature trees, a babbling brook (creek), hundreds of animal sightings, and wonderful neighbors. On the inside it has been a mecca of love, growth, nurturing, reprieve, peace, snuggles, and well…home.

When people tell you, “It’s not the place, but the people…” I have to only partially agree. Sure, it’s the people and relationships that make the assignment, but this time, it’s been the place too. And always, that place will be most symbolized by our physical home.

There have been hundreds of dark quiet mornings alone with only God and my coffee. There have been hundreds of hours of family time reading God’s word, playing board games, watching The Middle and The Goldbergs (our Wednesday night sabbath), and shooting basketball in the driveway. These doors have always been open to welcome neighborhood kids, and my couch a welcome spot for any friend in need of a shoulder to cry on.

There have been hundreds, if not thousands of meals breaking bread around our tables. There have been hours of tearful discussions, gracious forgiveness, and true commitment in growing our marriage…and lots of Netflix shows and deep plot discussions about Gilmore Girls, Mad Men, Better Call Saul, The West Wing, Stranger Things, The Office and Parks and Rec repeats, King of the Hill, and many more.

I’ll carry dozens of snapshots from these three years as we prepare to move on: Kids running out to help bring in groceries. Ryan drinking his tea on the couch. Kids crouched over textbooks and computers in the school room and at the kitchen and dining room tables. Ryan plowing, digging, and harvesting two summer gardens.

Bags packed and waiting to be loaded by the door. Hundreds of messages, lists, and love notes written on our chalkboard. Our air mattress nearly constantly inflated awaiting company. Hours spent at the desk writing, planning, dreaming, and strategizing. Nerf darts all. over. the. place. from regular, raucous Nerf wars.

Camping gear spread across the floor of Thomas’s room. Kate’s balance beam in the den and watching thousands of cartwheels take shape. Mae’s concerted (and CONCERT-ed) efforts to let us hear her recent improvement of her keyboard and guitar. Ryan’s evening guitar and singing practice to get ready for chapel worship. Me, lighting candles, wiping down the kitchen, watering my plants, soaking in my bathtub fragrant with eucalyptus salts.

Feet propped up under the fan of the back porch. Quiet-urging to come to the window to see deer eating from our fruit trees. Our tall, skinny Christmas tree glowing awaiting Christmas morning. Our counters and tables full of food to feed our friends, neighbors, families, and various groups we’ve hosted. Lego blocks sprawled out on the carpets and rugs. Hundreds of water cups and water bottles all over the place…signs of life that thirsty and hot kids live here. Our high chair in a now-permanent spot in the dining room for baby cousins and friends of the younger set. Home.

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(1) Family:

The number one item to make this list would absolutely, without a doubt be family. When I look back over our time at Fort Gordon in Augusta, I will forever treasure this place and assignment because of how we have grown closer as a family.

I recognized it in Texas, but when you live away from extended family and childhood friends…when you move frequently…change locations often…the only thing that remains stable and solid is family.

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It’s just the five of us most of the time. We have developed a bond and reliance upon one another that I know is a direct result of military life. True discipleship (in all of us) is a by-product as well. We don’t always get it right, but this time at Fort Gordon has taught us all to appreciate each other, to recognize our all-out commitment to the cause of our calling, and never take for granted God’s goodness and blessings.

I sing praises to the Lord for his protection of all five of us, for our good health, for our wide net of friends, for his provision in not just needs, but most of the time— provision in the extra things our hearts desire as well.

I know that just as God was faithful in our “desert season” (El Paso), and just as he has been in our “green pasture & quiet waters season” (Augusta), he will continue to remain a pillar of steadfast love and our steady True North.

We continue to walk the path of service to God and Country (pro deo et patria) and there is no one besides Ryan, Mae, Kate, and Thomas I’d rather serve, walk, and live among.

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If you’ve read this far, *you* deserve a medal of honor or some award of merit for your perseverance! This was a long one, but things I needed to process and write…things I needed to record before the moving truck pulls up and just as quickly pulls away.

These next few months will hold lots more transition and the news of where we will likely spend the next two to three years. We didn’t pick Fort Bliss or Fort Gordon; some would say the Army picked them for us. I would argue that it isn’t so much the Army as the Lord.

He goes before us and knows where he wants us and what he may do in us and through us wherever he sends us. As often as I struggle to live in the submission of this calling, I want to always remember that these aren’t just earthly jobs and geographical duty stations. I want to be reminded that these are Kingdom assignments…holy orders to help sanctify us and make us more like Christ as we seek to do his will and serve those around us…wherever that may be.

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6 thoughts on “Some Thoughts on Augusta and Why Fort Gordon is the Army’s Best Kept Secret

  1. Kathy Milligan says:

    I read it all….every word! You have such a gift of taking people with you into your thoughts and memories! I’m so glad for your time in Augusta! Honestly, I knew when I heard where you were going, that this would be a place of rest after so much change and dealing with Ryan’s deployment, as well as being so far from home! So thankful for how the Lord always knows what we need, when we need it! And…I’m so glad to hear there will be more books…I can’t wait!

    Like

  2. Judy Griffis says:

    Wonderful post that was awe-inspiring!! May God bless you and your family, and praying that when God places you in His next place of service , it will bring much joy and happiness also! Looking forward to your next volume! Love you guys!!

    Like

  3. Melissa Porterfield says:

    I read it all. My medal would be just being able to follow your families story. I don’t believe I could do what you do. I admire your strength and so much more.. You have a way with words. Thanks for sharing this beautiful read. May your family be forever blessed.

    Like

  4. Rhonda Griffith says:

    I so enjoy reading your blog! Can’t wait to see what the future holds for your family! May God bless and keep you in His care!

    Like

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