THE FINAL CALL By Lori A Alicea

We are all called by God to give honor,
Where honor is due.
(Romans 13:7)

The military also gives such honor,
To its deceased soldiers in a final roll call
At their life’s celebration.
SOLDIER STANDING ALONE use
As a family, we recently said good-bye to one of our own,
A proud marine who faithfully lived and died by these three simple words:

God, Country, Flag.
JOE MILITARY Flag half mast
Presenting to our fine marine,
The honor now due him.

THE FINAL CALL
By Lori A Alicea

Before our eyes a sea of blue,
Attention straight and tall.
A roll call of our fine Marines,
Who took the clarion call.

Defend our Lady Liberty,
Protect our countries shore.
A roll call of each faithful name,
Who proudly stands before.
SOLDIER STANDING GUARD

Where one by one Marines are called,
The flag is flying near.
FLAG FLYING NEARAnd down the list, those dressed in blue,
Acknowledge that they’re here.

But heaviness of silence felt,
The roll call stops the same.
When one Marine does not respond,
Or answer to his name.

But try again this soldier’s name,
ACKNOWLEDGE Sergeant Joe!
The roll call waits for his response,
But each Marine they know.

The faithful never leave their post,
Their heart and soul give all.
This brotherhood of tears concede,
Must be his final call.

The dog tag worn around his neck,
The names of our Marine.
Identify the man he was,
The hidden and the seen.
BROTHERS
A dad to four and papa six,
A brother and a friend.
An armor bearer, uncle too,
A hand of hope to lend.

A child of God, beloved son,
A warrior on his knees.
Who lived to give his life away,
Embraced the least of these.

A husband of one bride he loved,
No name could dare compare.
And at the feet of Jesus lay,
The crown he used to wear.

Then arms are raised, three volley rounds,
Bombs bursting in the air.
A gun salute which bursts a heart,
Without her soldier there.
HAT AND SWORD
Resounds, a bugle call of TAPS,
The words, A day is done.
His faithful years they fade into,
The drawing of the sun.
BUGLE PLAYERBUGLE AMRS

The flag is folded end to end,
For which he gave his life.

FLAG FOLDINGFLAG FOLDING 1

The service of a proud marine,
Presents a soldier’s wife.
DIANE RECEIVING FLAG
His country held against her chest,
Down flowing from her cheek.
The years of love she shared with him,
Her tears begin to speak.

Her heaviness of silence felt,
MY GOD! MY GOD! My heart!
This soldier’s wife, God grant her peace,
The years they are apart.
DIANE SAYING GOODBY
A name now stricken from the roll,
Though etched in memories set.
A name who loved those stars and stripes,
His country won’t forget.
SOLDIER SALUTING JOE 1CEMETERY
Our fine Marine he took up arms,
Defend our countries shore.
A roll call now of faithful ones,
His Savior, stands before.
GUNNERY SERGEANT JOSEPH ALICEA
Gunnery Sergeant Joseph Alicea
September 23, 1955 – July 30, 2021

A country thanks you for your service.

NOW THEY ARE FOUR…By Lori A Alicea

A week and a childhood into adulthood of memories ago they were five;

Five chairs and five dinner plates around the table;
Five pair of muddy Converse’s piled at the front door.
Five twin bed’s half-hardheartedly made some of the time.
Five wrestling opponents; one or two champions at best.
Bicycles to fight over; possibly never five.
Five hungry appetites;

Five sharing telephone numbers.
Five believing in God;
Five believing in each other.
Five attending five weddings.

Five brothers never imagining one without the other.

IMG_7601

But now they are four.

A team of five brothers they were.

IMG_7617

Maybe not on the same baseball team together, as one loved the WWF more while the other preferred his cars.

But five brothers shared a passion for life, for living on the edge of laughter, for having your back, for locking arms on your behalf.

david and alicea brothers dancing at raquels weddings

A team of soldiers “leaving no man behind” when he’s down.  A team of five hearts loving one mother and father.

DAVID BROTHERS NATE JAKE 025

A kitchen full of boys fighting for the last helping of rice.

A stove big enough for every son on the team to learn from a living cookbook the family recipes.

To learn beside their mother’s apron the magic of family meals and memories.

To remember to pass her legacy and love for the kitchen down through the generations.

DAVID BROTHERS NATE JAKE 015

Five brothers who value family; five godly men who honor the blessings of those seated next to them on Sunday afternoons at their mother’s table following church.

To share a meal and a cup of coffee together.

To enjoy a conversation about music, the White Sox and maybe their mother’s Cubbies; well maybe.

A team of seekers hungry for a mighty move of God.

DAVID BROTHERS NATE JAKE 016Then they were five.

The team witnessed Number Five marry a woman living in Puerto Rico with him in Indiana; a love story whose pages could only be written by the hand of God.

A handsome man all dressed up would be introduced to a woman visiting her uncle in Chicago, both attending the same gathering which God had secretly orchestrated.

An old fashioned relationship of hand-written letters began and continued for over two years. Authored from the heart and penned onto paper, the words of Ruben and Carmen’s love story were intimately being written by God.USE HAND WRITTEN LETTER

Significant of this long-distance romance, Ruben crafted a miniature red mailbox for Carmen, with a letter equally as small addressed to the love of his life in Puerto Rico.

Ruben’s heart poured out to Carmen as a sonnet,

When I give my heart, I give it completely.
If I fall for you, will you catch me?

After seeking a father’s blessing for his daughter’s hand in marriage, Ruben proposed to the love of his life with Niagara Falls as the backdrop to their picture perfect moment.

A smile that beamed from an overflowing heart thru the windows of her eyes,
Carmen said yes and they were married in Puerto Rico on a beautiful day,
June 19, 1988.

An old fashioned relationship of hand-written letters
Brought them to the steps of a holy altar;

Sacred marriage vows to:
Love and to cherish
For richer, for poorer,
In sickness and in health,
Unto death.

Ruben and Carmen loved each other for a lifetime.
Ruben and Carmen were committed to their vows of promises for thirty-two glorious years.

Their vows of
In sickness and in health
Unto death

Was their living testimony, a God centered example of marriage to that difficult fork in the road called Unto.

Woven into the remaining moments and days Carmen shared with her beloved, she reminded him how forever grateful she was of the Godly man that had faithfully served her, a servant whose greatness was witnessed in the little things; grocery shopping, meal preparation, finances.

Carmen reminisced Ruben’s Hallmark store of greeting cards he sent her, being mindful of the man she loved so dearly, mindful of a husband’s details that remains hidden in a place recessed in her heart, reserved only for him.

Carmen celebrated the songs Ruben dedicated to her, music which always takes her back to their place, their life; their scrapbook of memories.

Carmen thanked her romantic husband for that hidden garden he must have been secretly tending to, that special place just for her where he picked the prettiest bouquets of flowers for his wife most deserving.

Even in Ruben’s darkest hour, he was still found loving his wife; still keeping his God ordained post to inquire of any concerns, to encourage his beloved wife in the Lord, leading her to stand on the word.

The steps of a righteous man enters into praise as his teammates sang over him, keeping a soldier’s promise, “leaving no man behind.”

Pushing through excruciating pain, Ruben’s groaning’s of praise wafted to heaven a sweet fragrance to God,

1The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want…

4Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.

6Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. Psalms 23:1, 4, 6 (KJV)

Ruben sent one last letter, hand-written from the pen of his heart-felt love and addressed to his siblings,
“Please tell all my brother’s I love them.”

On February 27, 2021 that morning, the brother’s shared a “last call”, a final moment on the field honoring team member No. 5, a text message at six-thirty am that morning rejoicing as Ruben finally received his eternal reward.

Moments of silence flowed into rivers of tears.

Tributes to Ruben’s life were noted in part on social media…

Pastor and Nephew Jeremias Alicea – Ruben was a godly man, a pioneer in his church, and a devout follower of Jesus Christ. He always had a heart for people and I think it was, in part, because he understood the struggles of those who were marginalized. I am so glad he is no longer suffering and that he is rejoicing in heaven with many who have gone on before.

Niece Raquel Clay – Death is a beautiful thing when suffering is on the other side! I am grateful that my uncle is no longer suffering, but is fully healed and with his mother again in heaven! I rejoice in the memories of my uncle and hold onto the truth of what’s to come. Death is only the beginning, not the end!

Over the last two weeks a team has been planning to honor one of their own.

But the singing has already begun.
When We All Get to Heaven
By Alan Jackson
When we all get to heaven
What a day of rejoicing that will be.
When we all see Jesus
We’ll sing and shout the victory.

The family rejoices for the streets of gold their brother walks.

The team rejoices for the heavenly reunions already taking place.

The celebration of five brothers 

Now becoming four 
In letting go their brother who has just seen Jesus.

No. 5 has been retired to the Brothers Hall of Fame.

Around the dinner table there still remains five chairs and five plates;

The emptiness of one chair and one plate speaks loudly to a family’s loss and void.

Five brothers never imagined one without the other.

Memories never leave or abandon the heart.

But embracing the loss of being five is most difficult.

Niece Raquel Clay said it best,
Death is only the beginning, not the end!

We rejoice for you, our brother Ruben.
We promise to take care of your beloved Carmen.

The team will never be the same without you.
We find comfort and hold near your last words on earth,
“Stand on the Word.”
And
“All I know is that He redeemed my soul.”IMG_8128

Where once they were five, Now they are four.

But we will all see Ruben again one day.
Who knows when that one day will be?

But there’s comfort for all of us to think about that one day we will see Ruben again.

It’s like that reassurance Carmen had for thirty-two years when Ruben kissed her good night before sleep and a husband’s voice could be heard in the dark,
I’ll see you in the morning.

 

WHERE TO NEXT LORD? By Lori A Alicea

Where to next Lord?

The tent stakes of our life have been pulled up and packed with all our earthly possessions, waiting on God with an answer to our question,

 Where to next Lord?

 When God asked Abraham to pull up the tent stakes of his family, Abraham asked the same question, and by faith, left without knowing, yet confident that God would show him along the way.

It was by faith that Abraham obeyed when God called him to leave home… He went without knowing where he was going. And even when he reached the land God promised him, he lived there by faith—for he was like a foreigner, living in tents. Hebrews 11:8-9

I read once by Oswald Chambers that we should:

Let the attitude of life be a continual “going out” in dependence upon God and your life will have a charm about it satisfactory to Jesus. You have to learn to “go out” of convictions, out of experiences, until so far as your faith is concerned, there is nothing between you and God.

Looking back over the last seven years, God has had David and I on this Abraham journey, calling us out three times over to
leave without knowing
the where to which we were going.

Life has been a storybook adventure for us.
We follow a map without coordinates to guide us.
Yet the voice of our God says “go” and we trust Him for direction.

Echoing from the church pews of my childhood, this young girl sings the words to which by faith and dependence on God we walk:

WHERE HE LEADS ME
By Ernest W. Blandy

 Where He leads me I will follow.
Where He leads me I will follow.
Where He leads me I will follow.
I’ll go with Him, with Him,
All the way.

God has been abundantly faithful to David and me these twenty-five years together, highlighting the last seven years and three moves most noteworthy.

We haven’t lacked.
Our cup overflows.
Our cup is brimming of memories and grandchildren.

But sadly, moving is especially difficult on grandchildren, as young ones don’t understand the “going out” when God calls.

Children are tied to their memories as much as we grownups.

Leaving our country home of two acres was probably the most painful as our grown children bid good-by to their childhood home, and grandchildren walked away from all that room for parties, to run, play, get dirty and tractor rides with Papa.

This move was unexpected and tore the heartstrings of many to say the least.

You ask the questions “why”, but trust that wherever God is sending you, somebody needs the God companion you’re traveling with.

For three long summer months that year, David lived separately from me while I packed up and sold the house, as his allergies to our surroundings forced him away.

The emptiness of life without your soulmate was almost more than we could handle, adding the heavy burden to shoulder a wait for closure with one house and new beginnings with another.

But God is never late for an appointment even while we stare at the clock, tapping our foot in our impatience of His seemingly untimeliness.

Late that summer God welcomes us through the front door to our new address, handing the keys to an unsuspecting place called home.

Then you bloom again wherever you are planted.

Though, not the perfect place to pitch our tent according to our adult children, yet God said “go” to honoring and serving your ailing parents one street over from where we now live.
SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESWe all hold tight and carry our dreams wherever we go.

But trust that God’s dreams for us are bigger and greater than we could ever imagine.

And yes, bloom wherever you’re planted until then.

You sprout by figuring out the main things as grandparents; parks and fishing ponds, bubbles and breakfast, bike rides and snack shacks.

You bloom when you celebrate God’s gifts in family, in birthdays, in new births, in the “no reasons”, making it work wherever you’re planted, because that’s how garden’s grow.

You bloom when
HOME IS WHEREVER I’M WITH YOU.
wanatah goodyby 9Three years later, your parents no longer live one street over from yours.
Three years later God says “It’s time to go”.
Three years later we ask, “Where to next Lord?

The Abraham journey continues following the map without coordinates.

“We trust you Lord with our lives.”

Use us.
Mold us.
Make us.
Send us wherever you will.

We trust the path we were walking.

We hold the lamp to our feet that illuminates that “one step at a time” of our journey.

Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.
Psalm 119:105

Three weeks of walking when we pitch our tent again, next to neighbors God already knows will need us.
backyard wanatahFunny that God always knows.
Yet our peace tends to wrestle with the opponent of unanswered questions.

Home looks different once again.
Not the home of our dreams.
But dreams are what you make them.
house Bonnie's houseYou discover the silver linings and pots of gold hiding behind the curtain of contentment.

Contentment in our continual satisfaction of being together, wherever home happens to be today.
wanatah goodyby 9

Page after page of our story keeps changing in narrative.

The face of home has changed.

The faces of our grandchildren have changed in their growing up.

But gardens grow whenever you choose to plant new memories, new traditions and still reap from the “oldies but goldies.”

There are new country roads to discover peddling our fleet of bicycles that have grown from two bikes to twelve, with a place for every child no matter the age.

This is one tradition that writes the best stories of our grand-parenting history together, especially when Papa and Gaga take their spills.

There are those baseball tournaments where every child and adult must take their turn at bat. No couch potatoes in this family garden.

A new snack shack and park to ride our bikes during those open doors of cousin camp.

Yes, our cup overflows, brimming of memories and grandchildren.

Through the years we see the changes and rejoice as this next generation thrives, sprouts, blooms and flourishes in the garden they’ve been planted in.

So hard to believe that three years have gone by so quickly.

Our storybook adventure has added a few more exciting chapters to our family novel.

Three years and God is now calling us “out” again.

The tent stakes have been pulled up and all our possessions have found their temporary home in storage.

We ask the question again, “Where to next Lord?”

In two and a half weeks our Abraham journey continues unless God answers the question before we start venturing out.

It was by faith that Abraham obeyed when God called him to leave home… He went without knowing where he was going. And even when he reached the land God promised him, he lived there by faith—for he was like a foreigner, living in tents. Hebrews 11:8-9

In “going out” God wants more than anything from his children their deep dependence on Him as Father.

These Abraham journeys over the last seven years have caused David and I to lean into God more, trust in Him and take Him at every word, bringing forth such growth in our garden.

Adventures don’t come without risk though.

Those last looks back, good-byes and hugs of fond farewells run the risk of heartache you try to protect yourself from, but almost unavoidable after sharing life with those who call you neighbor.

Sitting outside together most evenings, the border of your life enlarges from the investment of being neighborly.

You discover in conversation how small the world is to find one neighbor works in the same department as you did years ago.

You appreciate the simple gesture of those secret painted rocks hidden for your grandchildren placed by the neighbor across the street.

You’ll miss those conversations one neighbor was always willing to share with you, putting her walk around the block on pause to do so.

How do you say good-by to the pool people who give you the combination code to access their backyard waterpark?

You know that next door neighbor whose doorbell your grandchildren want to ring whenever that red truck is parked in the driveway, to see if they want to come out and play.

That aunt and uncle our grandchildren are crazy about, whose house they ran back and forth to from ours.  Those neighbors who you also call family, and landlord.

Good-by with these neighbors finds a WARNING sign posted in both yards; enter at your own risk.

The Town of Wanatah has rolled out the red carpet for us out-of-towners these last three years.
wanatah goodby 4Wanatah and its country charm could be the 21st century of Mayberry.

This small town is famous for its Wanatah Wave.
Whether on foot, seated in your lawn chair or driving behind the wheel, everybody waves to the other while passing by.

They don’t know you. You certainly don’t know them.  No introductions needed though as it’s the love of this community to welcome you with their Wanatah Wave.

In a few short weeks David and I bid good-by to the Wanatah corn who has proven to be “knee-high” each year in July.
wanatah goodbyWe will shut down the weekly Friday night block parties of cousin camp and give you back your peaceful Saturday mornings to sleep in.

Be praying for the neighbors unaware of our bicycle club invasion coming to their town real soon.

One final Wanatah Wave as this town bids us good-by.
wanatah goodby 3David and I have no idea where our next address will be.

We wonder about the house God has already picked out for us, confidently trust for our heart’s desire.
wanatah goodby 10

The welcome committee is ready for us.
sign 2We’ve planned.
We’ve prepared.
We’ve prayed.

We open up our map without coordinates to guide us.
We listen for God’s voice who says “go” and we trust Him for direction.

The music is queued and we sing the words to which by faith and dependence on God we walk:

Where He leads me I will follow.
I’ll go with Him, with Him,
All the way.

Where to next Lord?

We ask the questions “why”, but trust that wherever God is sending us, somebody might need the God companion we’re traveling with.

We keep a heavenly perspective as one Facebook post once quoted because:

Our lives this side of eternity are meant to be lived in “tents.”
So travel lightly and enjoy the ride.
You’re not home yet.
backyard wanatah

 

BE THOU ENCOURAGED…In Loss By Lori A. Alicea

We are not alone in our tears.
In the lonely midnight hour it seems we suffer in silence.
But be assured and find great comfort as we are not alone in our tears.

Jesus weeps with us. He himself wept, being moved with compassion as Martha and Mary grieved the loss of their brother.  Jesus shared their grief in tears.

Jesus draws near to the broken hearted.
In your tears, Jesus will draw near to you.

The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.
Psalm 34:18 NIV

When Jesus saw her (Mary) weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. Where have you laid him?  He asked.  “Come and see Lord,” they replied. 

Jesus wept. John 11 32-35 NIV

I never understood earth shattering loss until my older sister Belinda left this earth for heaven. So many years ago, yet seems like yesterday.  She left us at the young age of 44 after being sick her whole life, yet because of her strong will to live and belief in God for a miracle, we had her years beyond what we imagined.  She was the first of our six siblings to go.
xmas and other036A generous friend my sister was while growing up, spending her allowance on me for no other reason than she loved me. We shared a sweet friendship that followed into our adult lives.

I loved my sister’s unexpected long distance calls and hated when our short conversations were over. Belinda was always in a hurry yet I appreciated her small offerings of time.  What I wouldn’t give for a mini talk with my sister, enjoying her laugher on the other end of the telephone.

Goodbyes are terribly painful. Goodbyes open the floodgates of our tears.  You can’t remind the clock.  Wishing is a waste of time.  Life moves forward from the day death closes a door.  It’s not fair.  The answer to our “whys” will never satisfy.  Loss is a bitter pill to swallow.

Though there is rest in our suffering and loss.
There is comfort in Jesus noticing our weeping.
In our grief He is moved with compassion and weeps with us.

There is sweet hope for our tomorrow as..

Weeping may endure for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.
Psalm 30:5 NIV

Joy is not forgetting your loss.
Joy is not pretending your loss ever happened.

“Joy comes in the morning” because if allowed, Jesus is the salve that heals all wounds. Jesus binds the broken and fills the void your loved one left behind with a new song in your heart.

Those who sow in tears will reap in joyful singing.
Psalm 126:5 NIV

All those tears in the night have been accounted for.
Your tears are collected in His bottle, and…
Joy comes in the morning.

Put my tears in your bottle. Are they not recorded in your book?
Psalm 56:8 NIV

 So many years ago, yet seems like yesterday. The deep pain of losing a sister I never expected to endure.  In a former column of mine The Milestones of First Anniversary’s

I wrote:

At her graveside service as Heaven comforted us with a sunny day and serenading birds, its own recipe of chicken soup for the sick at heart.  I couldn’t have comprehended that first year without her, as we fought to get through our first week.
graveyard
Those first few weeks after our tearful good-by when the numbing of the shock had worn off, waves of sorrow crashed over me through unexpected reminders of my sister in resemblances of her children, in each of us remaining siblings and even complete strangers. I barely held it together hearing the mention of her name.
IMG_5956Reading my sister’s obituary with her picture posted seemed so surreal. I struggled to be a pillar of strength for her children embracing the difficult realization their mother was gone.

In the passing of years, you do find it to be true that “time does heal all wounds.”
You miss your loved one in ways mere words can’t convey.
But time in God is good.

He is patient.
God doesn’t rip off the Band-Aid protecting your pain.
He handles you gently and softly, and never in a hurry.

You never cry alone.
Jesus weeps His own tears with you.
In the surrendering of your broken heart there is joy in the morning.

God even breathes his joy in the midst of our good-byes.
I wrote about it in my former column just mentioned.

Though sad was our sister’s “home going party”, before us, a little butterfly circled, showing off as if to tell us a secret.  Flittering free as a child, its interpretative dance reminding us my sister was free from the body that held her hostage.  Cry no more she’s free.

 Since then, I’ve attended a few dance recitals held outside my kitchen window.  A gift from Heaven who enjoys her now, I draw joy again from the well of my soul, prepared to live through the “seconds”.  There’s even peace to write my own lyrics to the song of this butterfly’s dance.

It’s just a little butterfly,
Outside that I can see.
Performing solo with new wings,
A special dance for me.

No music plays that I can hear,
A song there has to be.
A ballerina on her stage,
The audience, just me.

This butterfly is free to fly,
Wherever it may go.
But chose outside my window pane,
That I would somehow know.

Each dance this butterfly performs,
Within my simple view.
To celebrate its freedom wings,
Each time I think of you.        

I still miss my sister after all these years.  Since my sisters death, our youngest sister went home to be with Jesus, leaving another empty chair at the dinner table.  So much to conceive, but Jesus is enough to get us to the other side of pain.  Good-by celebrates the handprints our loved one leaves behind.
No thief can ever rob you of their memory.
david at gravesideIt’s ok to weep.
Jesus did.

Remember that heaven is our eternal home; we are only passing through in this life.
We’re just dropping in to say hello this side of heaven.
One day we’ll all meet Jesus and our loved ones again and..

As the song is gloriously written…

What a day of rejoicing that will be.