The girls and I drove to the airport to get Mom around 8:45 at night and right when we got out to the car the storm sirens started. It turned out to be literally nothing, I think I maybe saw a sprinkle of rain, but it certainly made me nervous.
We picked up Nana and had a quick dinner of Arby's for her (it is amazing just how much closes at 9pm) before heading home and convincing the girls to go to bed, which was challenging given the level of excitement with Nana being here.
Thursday morning at 415 am ish I left with my mother-in-law for the Atlanta airport because we were going to Chris' graduation together. We got to the airport, parked, got inside into the security line, and I had my ID and ticket out and in the hands of the TSA agent when he says to me, "your ID is expired". In a matter of milliseconds my heart rate went through the roof until I remembered, ONLY BY GOD'S AMAZING GRACE, that God had put it into my head to bring my passport along that morning.
I am still in awe of this moment, of God's love for me in something so seemingly small but to me was a world of difference. I was able to get through the airport.
The flight left at 5:50 and we rushed down to get on board, getting to the gate when they were lining up the first group. Originally Sophia was going to travel with (actually, both girls) but we found out that childcare was not available at one of the dinner events and children were not allowed. So now Sophia has an airplane ticket to use on Southwest in the next year or so!
I worked on Bethany's stocking the whole flight and made some OK progress. When we got off the plane I was so exhausted. I had barely slept the night before from excitement and had quite the adrenaline rush in the security line so I was very worn out. We made it to the rental car area and headed towards Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, AL for the graduation and surrounding events. It was about a 2.5 hour drive. We thought we wouldn't make the first event (that we could get to), a drill event of some kind, and would barely make the awards ceremony in the afternoon but we forgot that the time changed going from Georgia to Alabama so we actually gained an hour. Nice bonus.
After a couple of UNSWEET iced tea stops (think we stuck out?) we arrived at the base and parked by Welch field in time to see half of the event. We saw Chris right after, in his dress blues, and I almost broke down crying right then and there.
We had lunch with Chris at the DFAC (Dining Facility) and he told us all about his experience there, from the first couple of days where they couldn't talk or make eye contact and had 10 minutes to eat, to the clean up procedures and other things that they had to do daily. And the food was pretty good (not gruel, crusty bread, water...but they even had slushies!).
After that we went to his dorm and took a small tour of that, meeting some members of his flight, and then went to the "shoppette" (a small base exchange) before heading to the awards ceremony. They gave a nice slideshow of the preceeding weeks and gave out awards (physical fitness, best flight, etc.) and then it was time to go to the hotel to check in and get ready for the Heritage dinner, the formal dinner, at a hotel in downtown Montgomery.
This was an awesome experience. I have previously detailed my difficulties in finding a maternity formal dress so I will spare the details but it was really quite an exciting experience to get dressed up and spend time at this officers dinner. We had fun experiencing their traditions like "The Grog" (pretty much jungle juice drunk from a toilet bowl), eating a very good dinner and listening to a speaker divulge some wisdom as a doctor in the Air Force. Chris, as the social officer, was in charge of table decor and because his flight was the Oscar flight they went with a Hollywood theme, complete with red carpets, mini Oscars, and sunglasses. After dinner he returned by bus to base and we returned to our hotel for a good night's sleep before graduation in the morning.
The festivities of the day started off with handing out graduation certificates in their flight room, which is where they pretty much had class every day together as a group. It was an intimate gathering, and exciting to see graduation certificates handed out. One member of Chris' flight detailed some of their daily lives while at training, including their instruction and rules that were in place (primarily, uniformity and calling out specific commands)!
After this it was time for the parade ceremony, the final marching of their COT experience. It was fun to see the entire graduating class of over 220 doing the marching in unison on the field. Pictures are probably better than words for this, and I have lots below. Congratulations to the Air Force Commissioned Officer Training Valadez Class 16-04! Especially the Cobra squadron ("ssssss"), Oscar (Academy) Flight!
After graduation he spoke with a retiring military chaplain who had attended the event and then it was time to leave. Bags were loaded into the car and off we went to do some final shopping at the shoppette, larger exchange, and commissary before heading to the hotel.
Chris was relieved and ready to be in civilian clothes, and after he changed we we to lunch at Jim and Nick's BBQ before heading back and resting for the afternoon, as well as some bag repacking so I could bring home some things he didn't need for the following 6 weeks. Chris and I took a short nap, as did his Mom, and we met up for dinner at the Mellow Mushroom (pizza place) before going back for the night.
It was more than I could have hoped for to have that much time with Chris. We were able to just be up together and talk about his experiences, and watch Twister, and just enjoy each other's company. It was hard to believe it had been 5 weeks, and even harder to believe there were another 5-6 to go.
After loading Chris up in the car in the morning we had breakfast and headed to the base again. He and the other 30 or so chaplain candidates left early on Saturday morning (around 8 am) for their tour of bases in the South, starting with South Carolina. Hopefully he has a chance to meet up with Meghan and Stephen while there.
It was a very hard goodbye. Perhaps harder than the first one because this time around I know what I am in for with 5 weeks without him. There were multiple times during the graduation and surrounding events where I either welled up with tears or actually cried. Part of it was how surreal it seems. This is a goal he (we) have been working toward for a long time and I was so overwhelmingly proud to see him up there graduating, to see him part of the COT group. Other times somebody would say something like "you are here because someone else isn't; you are standing in the place that someone else wanted" because that statement was true of us for so long. It was just incredible to see him there. Of course, when I said goodbye again I was definitely crying many ugly tears. And today, right now as I'm waiting at the airport, I find myself just crying and trying not to.
We took our time traveling back to Atlanta, making a stop at Dillard's and at a farmers market where I had genuine southern peaches. We also stopped at Zaxby's for lunch (I still prefer Cane's or Chick-fil-A). It was a nice ride back, though I'm sure I was a terrible travel companion just thinking about Chris.
Lynn and I got to the airport around 4:15 in the afternoon, in time for her flight at 6:30 to go see my father-in-law in Chicago (today is their anniversary). My flight isn't until 9 and I was actually at the airport TOO EARLY to check in my bag. I can safely say that's never happened before. I waited until I was able to check it and then went through security. I have spent some time working on Bethany's stocking, on the one hand hating the quiet and sorely missing Chris and the girls, and on the other hand glad I can be with my thoughts for a bit. Catch up on reading. All that. I did start up with the tears again when a friendly TSA agent asked what brought me to Atlanta in casual conversation. I had to tell him through tears and words barely choked out. Poor guy probably won't ask that question again for a while.
This amazing trip would not have been possible were it not for God's grace. I was able to get here (passport in hand!), and my wonderful mom offered to watch the girls so I could have sweet time with my husband. My mother-in-law laid the ground work that made it possible to come, from a car rental to the first night hotel stay, to multiple iced tea stops. By God's grace Chris was accepted into this program, has an endorsing agency, is able to do this while finishing seminary, and graduated COT. What an amazing God we serve, that he loves us so much that he didn't just die for our sins to save us from ourselves but he gives us blessings beyond what we could expect (and certainly much more than we deserve).
I am ready to see my Mom and my girls, and glad to be over the halfway hump. I can't wait to see my husband again in 5 weeks, and to have him back for everyday. Praise God from whom all blessings flow.