He looked amazing in his dress blues, I can tell you that.

Pressed and polished in both appearance and character, he stood far taller than his six-foot-two frame. In eight weeks’ time, he’d changed. We’d sent a boy off to Basic Military Training. But the person we saw at graduation two months later was very much a man.

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Oh, my heart. 

Serving his country has long been his dream, since middle school at least. We’ve talked about it at breakfast, over dinner and in countless conversations in between. Still, when the day came to ship our son off to the USAF, the unknown left this mama with no small amount of fear and trembling.

Still, as I sat in the outdoor bleacher seats for his graduation two months later, listening to the cadence of the drum and bugle corps and watching the young men and women parade by in marching perfection, I realized our son was exactly where he needed to be. I needn’t be afraid. Life is a faithful teacher, and sometimes “hard life” most of all. And from our seats in his cheering section, we learned a few lessons, too.

Lesson #1: A life without discipline will always be limited. 

We often resent rules and discipline as restrictive. We want to be free to do and say what we want, when we want. And yet the opposite of our assumptions is actually true. It is the life without discipline that lacks the structural support to soar. Watching 700+ disciplined airmen work together was an impressive sight. They didn’t appear limited. They looked strong, powerful, able to accomplish anything. It reminded me of my years spent learning to play the piano: once you respect the rules, you can play any kind of music, even write your own. Discipline isn’t an enemy; it’s the necessary foundation to truly fly.

Lesson #2: Respect is the access point for accomplishing your agenda.

From the moment our son stepped off the transport bus and onto base, he learned respect. Respect for authority. Respect for boundaries. Respect for his flight and respect for himself. The result? Hundreds of friends and family mirrored that respect from their graduation bleacher seats. What I wouldn’t give to have learned this lesson years ago! Too many times, in my youthful desperation to be heard or make my position known, I compromised respect in my passion to accomplish my agenda. But rather than building bridges, I burned a few. If you want to lead, to influence everyone from your spouse to your community to your colleagues, don’t cheat respect. Leadership begins there.

Lesson #3: Inviting accountability multiplies your ability.

“Accountability” is often treated like a bad word. We resist it, resent it, and do whatever we can to avoid it. And yet, ever since graduation, my son can’t stop talking about the importance of accountability. He asks for it in his spiritual life, his academic life and even his exercise routine. He knows it’s the secret to becoming better, stronger, and able to exceed any limits. If you feel plateaued and frustrated, perhaps accountability is the key to taking the next big step forward.

Lesson #4: Self-denial sharpens your focus.

For eight weeks, our son went without television, cell phone, movies, video games, Internet, email, social media or access to current events {NOT easy. But, yes, it’s possible}. Instead, his sole focus was learning what it means to be an airman. In the process, he grew in his understanding of himself, he dove deeper into his relationship with God, and he learned volumes about leadership, service, teamwork and personal integrity. Imagine what could be possible if you and I intentionally blocked out distractions for a time and allowed self-denial to sharpen our focus?

Lesson #5: Struggle produces the most meaningful rewards.

If you asked our son to describe his weeks at BMT, he’d use words like “excruciating,” “tough,” “impossible” and “painful.” And yet, two days ago I asked him if he missed it. His response? “It’s going to sound weird, but yes. I miss it a lot. I’ll never forget those weeks, or the guys I met there.” The hardest eight weeks of his life have become some of the most meaningful weeks of his life. As much as we wish the pain away, nothing compares with the rewards it delivers. As John Piper says, “Don’t begrudge the school of suffering.” Let the pain be the powerful teacher it’s meant to be.

Which of these lessons means the most to you? Why? 

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