Jeff, Ashlie and baby Gentry arrived Friday in time for the St. Patrick's Day dinner. We've had fun just hanging out. Yesterday was a great day. At church, Pastor Tom Shirk recognized Jeff and Ashlie for their contribution and the congregation gave them a standing ovation. It was a wonderful way to honor Jeff and Ashlie.
Back at our house we had an open house from 2-5 so folks could come by and say "Hi" to Jeff and Ashlie and to meet their new baby. These were the people that had been part of Jeff's life--neighbors and friends that had been praying for Jeff. Our good friend Harold Wong from Moab drove 6 hours, went to church and an hour of the party before he had to drive back to beat the impending snow. It was probably the all-time party we've had at our house. Over a hundred people showed up to enjoy meatballs, pork tenderloin, and the usual assortment of party foods including a huge cake. People gobbled down nearly everything.
At 4pm we had a little ceremony to take down the blue star that had hung in our window for 382 days while Jeff was in Baghdad--representing the prayers for a safe return. The red, white and blue colors are almost indistinguishable from each other--a fitting reminder of the length of his duty. I said a few words, then Jeff spoke words of gratitude and thanksgiving. He mentioned that his company was in the streets every day, doing the same thing every other unit did, but they suffered only one KIA--quite amazing. Then, those who had served in the armed forces, Doug Palmer (USN), Don Wilcox (USAR), John Lamb (USMC), Tim Shaffer (USMC--Des[s]ert Storm) and I (cooking for the US Army Reserves) gathered around Jeff's family and John Lamb prayed a prayer of blessing.
Kacey put together a science fair display board of Jeff's time in Iraq displayed on the dining room table. Ashlie put together a slide show of Jeff during his time in Iraq and his homecoming that we showed in the living room. As the light was fading from the sky Jeff and Ashlie launched the red, white and blue balloons into the sky.
It was starting to snow...some were driving a distance and so they donned coats and said goodbye. After the crowd thinned out we persuaded Jeff to pull out his guitar and he sang to us (Lambs, Swansons--including Matt, Wilcoxes and Kacey and Erik) four or five songs he wrote while he was in Iraq. They were songs of love and hope and family. He even previewed the song he wrote to sing at Kacey and Erik's wedding.
We probably need to celebrate more. Celebrations cement relationships between family and friends and create a common history. Celebrations bring closure to accomplishments and endurance. Celebrations also portray hope for the future. They say "We stand with you," "We believe in you," "Your happiness and joy is one that we share with you."
As I sit writing this early on Monday morning, the house looks like Sunday morning after one of our fraternity party but the star is out of the window and Jeff made it safely home.