Tag Archive | senior year

Guest Post: Demons

Sometimes my 18-year-old son, Nathan, surprises me. He balks at traditional education and procrastinates writing for his classes. Then he shows me poetic masterpieces that absolutely blow my mind. The first one that captured me was composed several years ago for a class project. It was about Yellowstone National Park. It’s still one of the best things I’ve read. I’m keeping it forever. Maybe someday I’ll share it here.

He handed me the following yesterday and gave me permission to share it with you. Enjoy.

shadowy figure

Midnight comes and midnight goes

He tries to go to sleep but his eyes won’t close

His mind is in turmoil as he tosses and he turns,

He longs for some release but the nightmare returns

No peace can he find in the comfort of his bed

For no comfort can drown out the war zone in his head

He tries to cry out but his mouth won’t open

Desperately he searches for something to put his hope in

He’s drowning in the tears that are streaming from his open eyes

Screaming as his demons escape and start to terrorize

He knows that alone he is too weak to defeat this

Too weak to beat the demons with nothing but his clenched fists

So with pulsating veins and eyes turned upwards

He tries to find the strength to formulate enough words

To call upon the only one who is strong enough to save him

The one whose power is enough to cause the mountains of fear to cave in

And in the suffocating darkness he gasps and he wheezes

His dry throat only able to choke out one word: Jesus!

Now it’s the demons who scream and run away to hide

And he’s filled with such warmth and peace inside

Cause the one who conquered death is there to guard his rest

And the weight of all his fear is no longer on his chest

Now midnight comes and midnight goes

But his mind is finally at peace… and his tired eyes close.

Version 2

Nathan Reeves is a senior at Colonial High School in Orlando, Fla., where he is a student in the Cambridge Program. In the fall he will be attending the University of Central Florida, Burnett Honors College. 

Graduation Day!

IMG_0329Today we celebrated Justin’s graduation from high school. I wish I had been better about chronicling this year, but most of the time I was living it instead of writing about it. Or maybe I just didn’t know what to say. So, here is the biggest thing I learned this year: Letting my son work out his own decisions means he’ll own those decisions more. We were always there to talk through aspects of different decisions that he might not have thought through thoroughly, but ultimately, he needed to make his own choices.

I wouldn’t have chosen for him to have a girlfriend—especially one 5 years older than he—during high school, but he thought otherwise, and so Steph came into our lives. Because I have a heart for 20-something girls, I embraced Steph as someone I could pour into spiritually. We have had long talks many times, text frequently and have lunch together every so often. I treat her like a daughter and love it when she seeks my advice. His choice; our support.

I wouldn’t have chosen for him to work split shifts at 2 different Chick-fil-A restaurants while still going to school, but he wanted the challenge (and the money) and so he did it for a couple of weeks. I was concerned about how little sleep he was going to get. He said he hadn’t crashed and burned yet. I said it was only a matter of time. He said, Nah. He did it and he survived. But I think he learned that he didn’t really want to do that again.
Version 2

I didn’t like the idea that he only had 2 classes on his campus, and a couple on the local community college campus through the dual enrollment program. That left him with a lot of time in the mornings most days, and I wondered if his motivation to attend those few classes would wane over the course of the year. He’s never had as many unexcused absences as he had this year, but still he graduated with better than a 4.0 and a ranking of 10th in his class of 600+. He kept telling me, “Don’t worry about it.” I guess I should have listened.

When he talked of moving out of the house when he turned 18—5 months shy of high-school graduation—I told him he was out of his ever-loving mind. Probably not the best approach. So I backed off and gave him some compelling reasons why he shouldn’t: he wouldn’t have access to the vehicle he’d been driving, and he would lose the college fund we have for him. When he questioned why I would say that, I told him that he was making a foolish financial decision, and I wouldn’t support that. He saw the reason behind that and dropped the idea. Now, all I can do is point out that he would have a hard time making it financially if he moved out and really needs to keep up with school so he can keep his scholarships, but ultimately, the decision to move out when he starts college is his. We’ll see how that one turns out

IMG_0311Some of the dearest words to me this year have been, “That’s a good point.” Yay! I’m glad he listens to us even though he’s independent and likes to beat his own head against the wall. He says he doesn’t like people telling him he isn’t able to do something. He wants to find out for himself. I want to keep him from failing, but I’ve learned failing is probably the only way he’s going to learn.

Just like a toddler saying, “I do it myself!”

And he most often succeeds when he tries.

Congratulations, Justin. I love you to the moon!

Repeat After Me: 5 Things To Keep Reminding Myself

little_heartsWhen my eldest was born, I found a quote that I wrote in his baby book: Having a child is like having a piece of your heart walking around outside your body. And boy does it hurt. I have good kids. They haven’t rebelled, they get good grades, they are respectful to us and others, we have a good relationship with them all. But it still hurts to see my almost-an-adult son make decisions contrary to our advice simply because he likes to beat his own head against a wall in order to find out that, hey, that actually does hurt.

So, I have to keep reminding myself of a few things:

1. My son is not me. He will not make the decisions I would make. He will not follow the path I would follow, nor will he follow the path I want him to take. And I have to be alright with that, or it will tear us apart.

2. Don’t worry! I keep telling my son I’m not worrying exactly, I’m just concerned. Semantics, that’s all that is. I have this totally unfounded fear that he’s going to do something to derail his future. He tells me to trust him. I have in the past, so why is it so much harder to do now that he’s got one foot out the door?

3. Keep your hands to yourself. Whatever I do, I need to let him become the man God has made him to be. I stopped making his lunch years ago, I need to stop trying to manipulate things in his life now. He will resent me for it. He is not a baby anymore.

4. Be thankful for the time you get. These days, my son is gone more than he’s here. He has a new girlfriend. He has a job. He still has classes both at his high school and at the nearby college. And I miss him, frankly. We knew this time was going to come, and I thought I was maybe a little bit prepared, but I wasn’t. I’m not. But it will be worse when he actually moves out, possibly out of state, at the very least out of the house. I need to treat this as a year of preparation for the real thing.


5. God is in control. No matter what decisions my son makes, God is ultimately in control of his life. If he misses deadlines for college applications, or isn’t successful in being appointed to the U.S. Air Force Academy, or even decides not to go to college, his life will not be “ruined.” It might not look like we hoped it would look, but God is firmly, ultimately, sovereignly in control.

I keep having to remind myself of these things, and what I said here about how I should be parenting him. Letting go of a piece of my heart isn’t easy, but it’s necessary. It’s the right thing to do.


illustration from theroadtocrazy.blogspot.com

The Benefits of a Good Guidance Counselor

counselorMy senior is about to meet his 5th guidance counselor in 4 years of high school. Actually, only 3 because he’s just starting his 4th year. I think that’s a shame. I remember my guidance counselor from high school, Mr. Bianchi. He was this short little man with glasses and a mustache. By the time I graduated, he knew me well.

Justin is not going to have that advantage.

In light of that, here are 3 things I think are important in a good guidance counselor:

1. Expertise

The counselor Justin will have this year is brand new to the school. I know nothing about her but her name. None of the counselors I’ve talked to so far are familiar with service academy application procedures. I’m having to tell them what little I know in the hopes that it’s the right thing.

It’s been pretty frustrating.

They’ve all been very nice and accommodating, but what I want is expertise. We have a friend who is the head of guidance at a big Christian school in our area. She has helped a large number of her students apply for service academies. She has been my go-to person when I have specific questions, but she can’t help us beyond giving advice since she doesn’t have access to Justin’s file. She has volunteered to do a mock interview with him before he has to do the real thing with the nomination committees. We’re very grateful for that.

Her school is one of privilege. Our school is a Title-1 school, meaning we’re poor. I think Justin is the first one to ever even apply to an academy. What I want is for them to assure me that they will ask around and find someone who does know something to help them. I want them to be proactive. I think I’m delusional to think that will happen.

2. Availability

I think it’s important that a counselor is available, or readily returns calls or emails, especially for their senior students. I understand summer breaks, I really do, but at the end of last year, and over the summer, I have communicated with 3 different counselors to try to get the information Justin needs for his Air Force Academy application. When 1 would start to help us, she would then leave on vacation and be unavailable. I had to go through the principal and assistant principal to try to find someone in guidance who could help us. Now, he’s got a brand new counselor who just started this week. I haven’t been able to have any contact with her at all. I left a message this morning on her direct line. I left a message yesterday on the general guidance line. I so understand that 3,000+ students are about to descend upon them, but communication is key.

3. Personal interest

I understand the first change in counselors Justin experienced because our high school has a separate freshman campus with 2 guidance counselors for the 500+ students there. But to have so much turnover from sophomore to senior years is concerning to me. Beyond that, I just want to know that his guidance counselor is positioning him to have the best opportunity to do what he wants to do. How can she do that if she doesn’t even know who he is? We still have college applications ahead of us, as a plan B if he doesn’t get the Academy nomination or appointment. I’m so much more depending on friends than I am the school.

So, hopefully this week, as schedules come out and I go on campus to meet Justin’s teachers—which actually isn’t really necessary since he’s only taking 2 classes on campus, both from instructors I already know—I will also meet his new counselor. Maybe I’m wrong about her. Maybe she comes from another school in which she had lots of opportunities to help with service academy applications. I sincerely hope that is the case.

What have you found most helpful about your guidance counselors? I’d love to hear your stories.


image from classroom.jc-schools.net

8 Life Skills I Want My Senior To Have Before He Leaves My House (#1-4)

My friend Lucinda has a daughter who is also a senior this year. She posted on Facebook wanting ideas for life skills people would suggest she work on teaching her daughter this year. That gave me the idea for this post about things I want to make sure my son knows before he leaves home. Besides the moral fortitude I pray he is daily building, here are the first 4 of 8 skills I think are important for college kids to have.

bg-laundry-basket#1 Laundry

Ever since my kids were young, I have had them do their own laundry. They know how to sort it, use the washer and dryer properly, and put their own stuff away. My youngest isn’t the best at turning things right side out first, but that will come. Justin knows that if he wants his work uniform clean, he needs to plan ahead. He also knows that if he gets stains, he needs to use a reliable stain remover (Melaleuca is our detergent of choice). He also knows how to use the iron. He cares more about his appearance now than he used to, so I don’t even have to prompt him to do a load if his hamper is getting full.

Wallet_with_Credit_Cards_and_Money_Clipart#2 Financial responsibility

When my boys started high school, I took them to the bank and opened checking accounts for them. They have debit cards that they use for clothes, essentials like deodorant—very essential for a teenage boy—and food if they go out with friends. I still give them a sum of money each month with which to purchase these things, but the buying of such is their responsibility. I taught them each to use a budgeting app and they have a category for tithing and saving. Every month they balance their account with the bank. Since Justin also has a job, he is required to budget that money as well. On his own initiative, he opened a savings account and is having 20% of his paycheck automatically deposited into that account.

cooking#3 Cooking

When Justin was in middle school, I had this lofty idea of having him cook a day a week. That didn’t really work out, but luckily, he likes to be in the kitchen. He likes to bake and knows how to read a recipe, so he’s good to go. When my husband and I go out of town a couple of times a year for work, I leave him in charge of meals. Now that he’s working a lot more, I will have to adjust that some, but his younger brother needs to build up his kitchen confidence, so I’ll be putting more on his plate, so to speak. It doesn’t have to be anything complicated, just nutritious and plentiful. Even Morgan, my 11-year-old, has decided she likes to bake, so several times this summer she has gotten up early to make muffins or biscuits. She likes to help in the kitchen as well, so I involve her, along with my younger boy, Nathan, in dinner preparation. One thing I probably need to make sure of is that they know how to grocery shop for deals as well.

thank-you#4 Thank you notes

Even before they knew how to write, my kids sent notes to family and friends for gifts at Christmas and birthdays. Once they were writing on their own, they wrote their own notes. Before that, they just drew pictures and I wrote the words. Teachers always got thank you gifts with notes at the end of the year. Even in high school, knowing their teachers probably rarely hear words of thanks, my boys have given their teachers Subway gift cards and notes of thanks. When a teacher agreed to fill out an evaluation for Justin’s Academy application, he put in a note of thanks along with the invitation to the online form. It’s never a bad thing to show your appreciation.

Later this week: skills 5-9

laundry image from dirtylaundrydesigns.com; wallet image from gallery.yopriceville.com; cooking image from twighlightinsight.wordpress.com; thank you image from blogs.timesunion.com


8 Helpful Acronyms to Know in the Academy Application Process

USAFAsealIn any organization, there are acronyms that the people involved have to learn. And there are acronyms in general life that everyone is expected to know, like NAACP, AARP, NSA, CIA, FBI. There are even words that have come into general usage that started out as acronyms: RADAR, SCUBA and the like. Well, in this process of United States Air Force Academy (USAFA) application, these acronyms can be confusing and aren’t even necessarily intuitive. So here are 8 helpful acronyms I’ve learned in our process so far.

ALO—Academy Liaison Officer. This is an important person in the application process. He or she is your ticket to information about your application and the process in general. Once you are a candidate, you have to have an interview with your ALO in order to pass your drug and alcohol certification. And the ALO only wants to talk to the applicant. They want to know that your applicant is serious enough to talk to their ALO on their own.

MOC—Member of Congress. Many people in America probably don’t even know who their Members of Congress are. They are your senators and the Congressman (or woman) representing your district. They are the all-important people in the application process. If you do not receive a nomination from one of them, then you have to depend on the president, vice president or a military-affiliated nomination, which are harder to come by. Each MOC has a committee that reviews applicant files and interviews viable candidates. If you do not receive a nomination, you cannot receive an appointment. It’s a lengthy and complicated process which, I think, serves to weed out those who aren’t truly motivated to attend a service academy.

LOA—Letter Of Assurance. This is a really cool thing that an exceptional candidate can get if they are desired by the Academy and meet all the qualifications. If you do not have a nomination, you are a “pre candidate” and can receive an LOA saying that as soon as you get that nomination, you will get an appointment. The Academy will send this LOA to the MOCs, which could help them make the decision in your favor during the nomination process.

DD, DS, DH, DW—Dear Daughter, Dear Son, Dear Husband or Dear Wife. This is kind of a funny one that I came across on the military service academy forum that I frequent. People never use names. They will talk about their DS just getting his acceptance, or their DD in the application process.

DODMERB—Department of Defense Medical Examination Review Board. This is an all-important body that will decide, after they review your official medical exam, whether you will qualify medically or be disqualified. Everyone has to go through it, and it is rigorous.

CFA—Candidate Fitness Assessment. Another all-important step that every candidate must go through. It is pass/fail, all or nothing. It has to be administered by specific people in a very specific manner. If you fail the CFA, you cannot get an appointment.

EAP—Early Access Program. If you initiated your application between March 1 and July 1, you are eligible for the EAP, which means that you can hear in January whether you will receive an appointment or not. We just heard this morning that our DS has qualified for this program. Yay!

TWE—Thin White Envelope. This is what nobody wants to receive from the Academy. If you get the TWE, it means that you will not be receiving an appointment to the Academy at this time. It means that there is only one sheet of paper in that envelope, rather than a packet of information about what you do now that you are an official appointee. I think that every time I go to the mailbox between whenever DS’ app is mailed and January 31st, my heart will be beating just a little bit faster.

I hope that helps educate you on a few things that you might encounter along the way.

Does anyone have any others they’d like to share?

picture of Academy seal via blogs.gazette.com

Off We Go Into Service Academy Application

IMG_2911My son is in the process of applying to the United States Air Force Academy. I will spend much of my time on this blog talking about that process as I know that I appreciate every little bit of help I can get. There are a ton of forums out there, and everyone has their opinions, so sometimes weeding out what’s helpful is a long process. But here are a few things I’ve learned so far.

1. Being smart is important, but it’s not everything.

And standardized tests are a poor indicator of how truly smart someone is. My son has done very well in school. He’s 8th in his class of 733. He has a weighted GPA of more than 4.7 and is taking honors, AP and dual enrollment classes. But he’s not shown himself to excel on standardized tests. Unfortunately, the Academy has standards and if you do not meet those standards, you are disqualified. So far, DS (military academy speak for “dear son,” which, along with DD, is how all posters on military forums refer to their children) is considered competitive by the Academy.

2. Being athletic is important, but it’s not everything (do you sense a pattern here?)

Ever since DS decided he wanted to apply to the Academy, we’ve been talking about his participation in a team sport. He played Little League Baseball for many years, but hasn’t since before middle school. He earned his blue belt in Tae Kwon Do instead. Once he reached high school, he got deeply involved with his AFJROTC unit, participated in the drill team and commanded the armed drill team, which knocked him out of sports because the drill teams practice every day. Each Academy candidate has to pass the Candidate Fitness Assessment (CFA), which includes several components. If you fail even one component, you fail the whole CFA. If you fail the CFA, you’re out. So, being physically fit is necessary (obviously, since we’re talking about military service here), but that can be accomplished in ways other than participating in team sports.

Unfortunately, the Academy ranks their candidates by said participation. I did have one forum poster tell me that DS needs to be doing what he has a passion for. If JROTC is it, then that’s what he needs to do. The Academy is looking for opportunities for leadership. My DS has that within his JROTC unit by being named the Vice Wing Commander of his unit next year. His unit is more than 500 strong. That’s leadership. I hope the Academy sees it that way.

3. The Nomination from a member of Congress is everything (it really is).

No nomination, no appointment, no matter how great you are. So right now, DS has been collecting letters of recommendation to send to our senators (2) and congressman (1) and the Vice President of the United States (a long shot, but they say to apply everywhere you qualify) to send in with his application for nomination. A nomination committee will review his application and either call him for an interview, or disqualify him. If he gets the nomination, he still has to pass the CFA and his medical evaluation. If he does all that, he still needs to receive an appointment from the Academy. It’s a long, long process.

4. There is seemingly no end to the details that have to be covered.

DS has taken both the SAT and the ACT twice; now those scores have to be sent to our MOCs (Members of Congress). Essays have to be written. That’s the tough part because your essay really needs to stand out. Every list the MOCs have needs to be checked and rechecked to make sure everything that is required is enclosed. If not, your application will be turned down flat. Letters of recommendation, along with an academic recommendation from his principal, have to be sealed and then signed across the seal so the committee knows it hasn’t been tampered with. They need a photo with his name on the back. They need a checklist of items in the file. It’s enough to make an administratively minded person like myself pull out my hair. My 17-year-old son is barely surviving.

5. Discouragement is always close at hand.

You have to be on a sports team. Your ACT score is just adequate. You don’t stand out. How discouraging is that to hear for a kid entering his senior year, working a part-time job, being 2nd in command of a huge JROTC unit, volunteering with the middle school youth at his church? It’s summer and I can’t seem to motivate him to get up early to go run, to practice for the CFA, to study harder for the ACT. Especially when I’m trying to back off and let him have more control of his life. I’m determined not to nag.

After the last SAT scores came out he said to me, “I’m not going to make it.” That made me sad because I feel that he’s losing hope. We don’t know what the candidate pool looks like this year. All we know is that he can only do his best and the rest is up to God. Integrity first. Service before self. Excellence in all we do. That’s the Air Force motto. Those are intangibles. He has control over his academics and his physical fitness. He can study more for the standardized tests. But his integrity, his character, who he is when no one’s looking, are what will stand out in the end.

Hopefully, the MOCs will notice.