Flag Duty and Other Responsibilities

Usually, around the sixth grade, kids start honing in on their talents. They have had a few years of dance lessons or been a part of soccer teams. Graduated from the recorder to the oboe or created at least one piece of artwork their parents deem to be revolutionary and have been upgraded to real sketch pencils.

I was not that kid.

Sixth grade rolled around and the only team sport I had ever been a part of was Bible drill. Yes- that is a real thing.

I sang along to Michael W Smith’s Go West Young Man cassette tape on my Karaoke machine at home and wrote my own family newspaper, but I was convinced those things were far less “real” than the extra-curricular activities the other kids my age were a part of.

But then one day I found a team and a talent. It all started when my sixth grade teacher at Daniel Elementary School, Mrs. Isaacs, nominated me to be in the prestigious flag corp.

Nope. Not the kind of flag corp where you dress up in cute spandex leotards and prance around with a all your dance-class-knowledge waving a flag. I was completely unqualified for that. No, she nominated me for something much better. Mrs. Isaacs nominated me to be on the team that put up the American flag each morning before school started on the towering flag pole that greeted people as they drove in to the school driveway. FLAG CORP.

I was elated.

As with all jobs in my life (And I have had taxes withheld since I was 16 years-old, so there have been many.) I took flag corp duty with every ounce of seriousness and dedication I had in my wiry-90-pound-twelve-year-old body. Some might say I was hell-bent on being the best flag corp-er that ever walked the halls of that intermediate school.

Backtrack: If you’ve been around my life stories for any length of time, you know I come from a military family. Collectively, my extended family and I are that family who will give you the God-forsaken-stink-eye if you even THINK about cracking jokes during Lee Greenwood’s Proud to Be an American at the end of the State Fair laser light show. We will glare at you, mouths slightly aghast, if your hand is not over your heart and body facing the flag during the singing of the National Anthem and we will insist on your deportation if you don’t start Memorial Day off at a freaking MEMORIAL DAY service. Your humanity will be seriously questioned by family if you don’t get a wee bit misty-eyed when the old men come along at the end of the 4th of July parade wearing their WWII Veterans hats. Mmmmmmkay? We’re that family.

Now you can imagine the seriousness of the sheer American-patriotic duty coursing through my blood as I showed up at school one hour early to properly, perfectly adhere the flag to the flag poll.

I vigorously studied the flag code book and could beat most Eagle Scouts in my comprehension of it. Under my watch, that flag would NEVER touch the ground. It would always be briskly raised and lowered slowly and ceremoniously. It would be folded properly and perfectly. Every. Single. Time. No cutting corners. And in our hearts, everyone on my flag duty team would be asked to truly understand the importance and significance of the raising and lowering of our nations most beloved insignia. I may have been slightly made fun of for my due diligence in honoring the American flag. But whatever.

I felt a huge responsibility, honor and duty.


Today, for the first time in a really long time, I feel that same weight of responsibility, honor and duty as I set out to properly invest the $52,995 given to me by my friends, family and fans for the purpose of creating my debut book and a independent EP.

It is not lost on me, not for one second, what a truly amazing gift it is to be the receiver of such an enormous amount of funding. Ryan and I are excited and joyful, but we are also moving into the next few weeks of budget meetings knowing that we carry a tremendous responsibility to wisely steward the money we have been gifted for these projects.

I feel like that wirey-90-pound-twelve-year-old little girl who would very solemnly and seriously show up to an empty school while the lights were still dim and the hallways smelled of chlorine washed floors, in order to take the American flag out and raise it in such a way that it honored the people who gifted it to me in the first place.

With great gifts comes great responsibility.

So to those 464  people, and the bigger picture of families, friends and finances you each represent, thank you for a great gift. Please know that with every ounce of seriousness, dedication and responsibility I possess- I will honor your gifts and use them to craft words that remind people of the beauty, life, joy, HOPE, redemption and love that God has put on display for the whole world to see.


Simplifying War

No parent wants meaningful public discourse and policy to come at the cost of their own child. At the end of the day I would love to see tighter gun control measures, less boots on the ground in Afghanistan, a cure for cancer and a better understanding of mental illness and the possible treatment approaches for depression; but not at the expense of Annie's life. My heart breaks for parents who champion change in their child's absence. Theirs is a job of constant heartbreak and courage.

To the parents who so fearlessly continue to give voice to the evil which robbed them of the very babies they created inside their bodies: I am forever grateful to you and forever in awe of your bravery.

You are an army waging war against enemies many of us have never had to look in the eyes. You do not quit. Your tears have run dry and your resolve has intensified. You look deep into the eyes of the enemy and you don't break your gaze.

You put on your fatigues, pick yourselves up by the bootstraps and head back into the trenches with demons no momma or daddy should ever have to fight.  And you fight.  You fight like hell.

You know better than anyone that you can't simplify war.

The enemy is there-

but the enemy is omnipresent and illusive.

You must fight on all fronts-

with weapons you didn't even know existed with offensive measures you've never even considered with strategies you never wanted to author

You are a guerrilla warrior.

Under your surge, you will engage people's minds, break their hearts and persuade them to act- not for you-

but on behalf of that picture on the fireplace of the little boy who used to ask you to play tickle monster... long before he faced real monsters.

You have seen those monsters. Better than any of us, you have seen them.

And you know- deep down in the fabric of who you are- that there is no easy way to get rid of them.

We simplify it, don't we?

As if a policy change-doctor- pill- counselor- a little more prayer- or just picking a better attitude!- would chase the monster away and win the war once and for all.

As onlookers we forget that some wars never end. Some wars are hard-fought and long-lasting. Some wars have names like "The 100 Year War." Some wars, as Pastor Rick Warren so painfully wrote about this weekend, never subside.

"In spite of America’s best doctors, meds, counselors, and prayers for healing, the torture of mental illness never subsided. Today, after a fun evening together with Kay and me, in a momentary wave of despair at his home, Matthew took his life.”

Some enemies are deeply rooted in the marrow.

Defeat is not that simple.

General Stanley McChrystal, the four star American general who led all U.S. and international forces in Afghanistan, was recently interviewed by Foreign Affairs and asked about his role in leadership as compared to his predeccesor, General Casey. In essence- was one leader more essential to the surge in Iraq than the other? The humility and wisdom in General McChrystal's answer has stuck with me.

He said, "People tend to simplify things. They try to say, 'It was all screwed up here and then it got all good there,' or, 'This decision was decisive.' I have never found anything that clear."

Me either, General McChrystal.

He ended the interview by reiterating again that there is no one single way- no single leader- no single strategy that can precisely and ultimately dismantle an adversary.

"If you go back in history, I can't find a covert fix that solved a problem long term. There were some necessary covert actions, but there's no "easy button" for some of these problems."

Those of you waging wars unending know.

You know better than anyone that there is not an 'easy button'.

You know better than anyone the overwhelming, misguided urge the rest of us have to simplify what is not simple.

You know, in the same way that a decorated war veteran knows, that a covert fix rarely solves a problem long term.

You know torture that does not subside.

Don't Fight Alone

From a girl who fights small battles of overwhelming fear and anxiety with 200 miligrams of Zoloft, a psychiatrist, a supportive husband, yoga and prayers for mercy and a clear, calm, mind... I know first hand that I can't fight alone. I know that what I have- this obsessive compulsive disorder that leads to a barrage of intense thoughts that makes me feel terrified for NO LOGICAL REASON- has no simple fix.

I don't choose it. I can't prevent it. I don't want it. I don't understand it.  It is not rooted in reality. And there is no covert fix that makes the thoughts go away. General McChrystal said it best. There is no "easy button" for some problems.

For me, it is a multifaceted attack on a war unending. I don't simplify it and neither should anyone else.

Simplifying the enemy is dangerous. As if all enemies are the same.

As if all wars can be fought in one way.


The only thing historically certain and constant about any military approach to a war is this: It takes an army.

Battles are not won, lost or fought alone. Ever.



So what do you need from your community?

Those around you who have no idea what it's like to fight your war over and over and over again...

No one wants you fighting alone. And we don't want to simplify a war with trite, pithy quotients. With opinions. With black and white solutions that have no bearing on your enemy. With empty grace and borrowed empathy. With intolerance and blind hearts. With battle-cry's we don't intend to proclaim on your behalf for the long haul.

We can't afford to simplify battles any longer. We are tired of losing wars and are ready to wage wars... with you, for you, on your behalf.  No matter how long it takes.

How can we walk with you? How can your friends fight with you?

Tell them. They will listen.

We will listen.

Even the Sparrows

Several months ago I met a spunky, gentle, confidant, peaceful, dying woman. Her skin was sunken and all her hair gone. She walked with the help of nurses and friends. She wore a mask protecting herself from the inevitable- but it was more out of duty than desperation.

"I have made peace with my passing," she told me with a settled smile.

She attended a free concert I performed for military families at Madigan Medical Center in Tacoma, Washington. She was the last person I spoke with that day. She loved the song, Heaven Waits for Me, and wondered when it would be available to purchase.

Without thinking, I told her it would come out in February or March. As soon as I spoke it, the truth of the matter hovered in front of my eyes and I felt sick to my stomach; ashamed that I had spoken so carelessly and assuredly about the future.

We both knew February wasn't in her future.

And yet she smiled. A deep, generous smile. And she told me:

"When I came to this place and I was diagnosed- I went outside to the courtyard to pray. While I was out there, God sent me a sparrow! Really! The Lord just sent a sparrow- and sparrow's don't usually let people touch them, but this sparrow walked straight up to me and into my hand. I got to run my fingers down his little head. He sat with me. And the Lord told me- "I, the one who cares for sparrows Debra, will surely care for you." And that's all I needed to hear. I came back day after day and the sparrow kept coming back. I was able to take a picture of my little sparrow that the Lord gave me. And I want to give it to you. I want you to remember Jenny, that our God cares for sparrows. How much more will He care for you?"

We hugged and cried and she told me how she loved the song His Eye is On the Sparrow. And I told her that I had one more show in town, and that if she were able to leave the hospital and come to the show, we would play the song for her. She handed me a picture of her tired hand with this tiny bird at the tip of her frail fingers. Annie, my three-year-old, keeps it by the window in her bedroom.




Two nights later, as I walked on stage to put out my set list and a bottle of water, I looked up and saw her there with a nurse on each side of her. Face beaming. Settled. At peace. Held together like a tiny sparrow thrown about in a storm.

I ran back stage a bit panicked. I had never played or performed His Eye is on The Sparrow- barring the five hundred million times I had sung along with Lauryn Hill on Sister Act 2- but I told my guitarist we had to play the song... Deb had taken me up on my offer. We quickly learned the best version we could come up with. It wasn't perfect- actually it was horribly off- but it was perfect.

Rarely have I become so emotional in a song that I was unable to finish singing it. But singing the very words of worship that a dying woman's heart was clinging to, brought me very near.

Why should I feel discouraged, why should the shadows come? Why should my heart be lonely, and long for heaven and home? When Jesus is my portion, A constant friend is He- His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me; His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.

I sing because I’m happy, I sing because I’m free, For His eye is on the sparrow, And I know He watches me.

We hugged at the end of the night and I knew it would be the last time I would see her.


Over the holidays Deb sent a gift for Annie and I.

"Thank you for your kind words at Madigan Army Medical Center and especially at the church in Lacey, WA. And singing that special song to me! This was really part of multiple messages God has sent me to tell me, He will always be with me through this progressive cancer.  "His Eye is On The Sparrow" was soooo touching. Words are not enough. I wanted to send you a little something for your daughter who would love to catch a bird!"

She sent a Willow Tree woman with sparrows on her arms. Annie asked if it could be her angel. The sun falls through the cracks each morning and as I sit and figure out what to do with my life each new day, I am ever reminded that the Lord sees me. God cares. If the birds outside my window have a melody to sing and a worm to eat and a nest on which to rest their heads- I have nothing to fear. Am I not of more worth than the birds?



Deb fought through February and finally went home to be with Jesus yesterday morning, March 31st.

One of the nurses- who became a dear friend of Deb's- wrote to let me know.

"I thought how appropriate she would pass away on the most beautiful day we have had in the Pacific Northwest this year AND on Easter. As we celebrate the resurrection of our Lord and Savior we also celebrate Deb's transition to being with Jesus."

So tonight I announce to as many people who will hear my voice, the words which a faithful, beautiful woman reminded me to cling to. The life that Jesus Christ came to offer anyone who would choose to lay down their burdens on Him and instead take His yoke, which is easy and His burdens, which are light of soul (Matthew 11:29-30).

"If our God cares for sparrows, Jenny, how much more will He care for you?"

"Why, even all the hairs on your head have been counted! Stop being afraid. You are worth more than a bunch of sparrows." Luke 12:7, ISV

"Look at the birds in the sky. They do not store food for winter. They don’t plant gardens. They do not sow or reap—and yet, they are always fed because your heavenly Father feeds them. And you are even more precious to Him than a beautiful bird. If He looks after them, of course He will look after you. 27 Worrying does not do any good; who here can claim to add even an hour to his life by worrying?" Matthew 6:26-27, The Voice

In loving memory of Deb Strand, a woman who trusted Jesus to care for her every step of the way.

I wish we all could know...

A few weeks ago I was in Terminal D at DFW airport. Terminal D is the international terminal here in Dallas. It's not flashy- like Detroit Metro- with beautiful fountains, leather lounge chairs, and an indoor tram; but it's not dinky either. It has rather lofty ceilings, fabulous restaurants, and enough flat screens to remind you that, although spread out and enormous (like everything in Texas) it is still modern and trendy. Mostly, terminal D seems to be a hub for wealthy travelers and more business men and women than I ever, ever care to deal with. They are everywhere. All huffy and puffy and rushed and sipping their lattes and making business deals on their laptops while talking on their ear pieces to someone else- all while trying to pay for their lattes. You get the point. It's the business elite and the people hopping on planes to amazing places like Paris and San Paulo and Beijing.

You go to Terminal D to people watch- and then you try to stay out of the people's way!

I tell you all of this to tell you that when the whole of terminal D was frozen in place the other day for what seemed to be fifteen minutes... I thought the worst. Perhaps the airport had lost cell signal or some other terrible, natural catastrophe had occurred.

But then I saw an older gentleman looking up.

There were tears streaming down his face.

And there, above our heads, encased behind a glass wall, coming out of the international arrival doors, hundreds of our men and women returning from Afghanistan began to file through the doors.

The gentleman in front of me drew to attention- you could almost here his 80 year old bones snap into place-  and put his hand to his head in the most beautiful salute I have ever seen.

He stayed like that, at attention, saluting, for 15 minutes.

His wife rose from her wheelchair and steadying herself against him, she began to clap.

Aall the huffy, puffy, busy business folks set their briefcases down and began to clap too. All through terminal D people stopped. Frozen in time. Cheering and clapping. Giving thumbs up and mouthing the words thank you. Wiping tears and not breaking our gaze- we stood there, scattered throughout Terminal D, craining our necks upward, knowing we were a part of a moment that was incredibly significant.

Whether you believe in war or not. Whether you believe in this war or not. You gotta believe in these men, women, and their families.

Some of the men and women in uniform wiped tears from their eyes as we cheered them on. Some of them threw their hands in the air like Rocky- telling us they did it, they made it home. Some of them nodded, and as straight as a soldier who has seen death, walked with purpose down that hall as a man and woman who comes home with honor should. Some smiled. Other men stopped to hug each other and buried their faces in the camouflage of another. One girl started dancing. Their reactions were all different, but all beautiful.

Our airport does an amazing job at welcoming home troops, but it never happens in Terminal D. It happens in another terminal. The USO is set up in a smaller terminal with plenty of room for families to cheer... and no glass walls. So I suppose this group was headed to the other terminal. I suppose the sight of them surprised the Terminal D kind of folks. I suppose people had places to get to and phone calls to make and business deals to secure and... and.. and...

but in that moment, the whole world stood still.  And these men and women stole our hearts. And we gave them ours.

I wish the whole world could have seen it.

We- the collective we- we were so proud of them. So grateful. So humbled.


I was deeply touched by the stories of your friends, family, and personal experiences regarding deployment. Thank you to all the blog readers who shared your stories with us. I wish I could repeat them all here. I wish I could tell people your story so that we could ALL have a better grasp on what it truly means to sacrifice.

I wish we could know the feeling a mother has when watching her 20 year old baby boy leave for the foreign desert of Afghanistan.

I wish we could know the feeling of giving birth to a baby while a best friend holds the computer and dad watches on skype from a desert laced with war.

I wish we could know what it feels like to leave our children and husband behind, wondering if they will still be there, if the marriage will still be there, when we return.

I wish we could know the feeling of  keeping it together, day in and day out, taking care of children, bills, family health issues, and the simple chores of getting kids ready for school and holidays, while our spouse has been deployed for the fourth time.

I wish we could all, for just a brief moment, experience these things so that we might not only appreciate the sacrifice, but that we might also be drawn to a place of action on behalf of our military families. Like everything in life, once we see it with our own eyes; once we walk through it with our own family; once we put ourselves in the shoes of another... it is no longer a foreign concept, it is a person, a family, a child, a shared moment that- try as we may- we cannot seem to rid our minds of.

The result?

Once we experience the shoes of another, we move beyond cursory words of sympathy and we move into empathy. A deep feeling of truly sharing and carrying another's burden or pain. Sympathy is the broadest form we can relate to someone who is hurting. Then comes empathy, which allows us to actually put ourselves in the person's shoes. Then comes compassion, a mixture of both sympathy and empathy marked by a propensity to alleviate the suffering of the person who has suffered. Sympathy is easy. Empathy requires "knowing what it feels like" or at least allowing ourselves to imagine what it must feel like. And once we feel it? We- as humans- are more times than not, driven to compassion.

Sympathy. Empathy. Compassion.

So yes. I wish for each of us that we may, in some way, understand the hardships of another so that we might move well beyond sympathy and into empathy and acts of compassion.  This week specifically, I hope to encourage you- whoever you are- to be moved to compassion on behalf of the men, women, and families who sacrificially serve in the military.


At the very least, we can pray prayers of peace over those we know who are currently deployed and serving during war time.

But I hope you and I become inspired to do more than just that!  This week I will introduce you to several organizations that you can partner with in big and small ways to show our troops and their families compassion. Be looking for those on Wednesday.


Please print this list out and join me in praying for those who are currently deployed and their families:

Ashley Barnhill

Josh Barnhill

Ashley Miller

Joe Gilling

Tim, wife, son

Treylyn Smith, wife, son Karsyn

Orlando, wife

John, his father and sister Lori

Parker and Ellen

Matt Emmon's brother, wife, two children

Serrell Livingston, wife, son, and step daughter

Robert Tepera

Andrew Baptiste

Thomas Jones

Michael Payne

Chris Davidson

Sarah Bleything

A family that my sister is close with just said goodbye to their husband/daddy as he was sent off to Iraq, again.

A young couple who are moving in two months, and their third baby is due in one month.

A young female soldier who volunteers at my youth group is currently deployed.

Jeanna B and her husband who is currently deployed

Jared, wife, and three children

Colin Kerrigan, wife, and three children

Chris Sikes

Ashley Sanders
Jon-Micheal Cason
Michelle Davis (currently deployed) husband, and two children
Tim Benedict, Melissa, and the little baby in her tummy
Katie's cousin in Afghanistan