A Note To My Teacher

874c6064a32d5cdc7b996bdd22ea0323Dear Mrs. McAuliffe,

It’s almost hard to believe that thirty years have passed since that cold, tragic January morning when you and your crewmates boarded the Space Shuttle Challenger and spread your wings for your final rendezvous with the stars. As a high school student with an avid interest in aviation and space exploration, not only was I excited about another space mission, but I was thrilled at the notion that you would be teaching us from orbit. You had become more than a teacher from Concord High School, you were now America’s teacher, and you were my teacher.

Two years prior, President Ronald Reagan announced the Teacher In Space Program and on July 19, 1985, out of a pool of 11,000 applicants, you were selected as the one who would take us all on the ultimate field trip and teach us about where we’ve been, where we’re going, and why. Then, as classrooms across the nation fell silent and as I sat quietly on my bed trying to understand and process what had transpired in those short 73 seconds, I began to realize those lessons would never come. But perhaps they did….

This morning, as I sit in my office grading student’s papers, I am reminded of you and the handful of great educators who helped shape and mold me into what I am today. While the lessons of math, science, English, social studies, and other subjects have certainly come in handy, and while I’ll not have the opportunity to hear your lecture on magnetism, Newton’s laws, or hydroponics, perhaps the most important lessons have come from simply watching the life you lived.

From the slag dumps of a small coal-mining community, to the cockpit of several different types of aircraft, to the bedside of a dying patient, to the inside of a space suit, to the flight deck of a Space Shuttle, to launch operations, and to the inside of a classroom, I have carried you with me. The values of perseverance, commitment, and excellence I observed in you and adapted to my life have resulted in a plethora of opportunities and have served me well.

Now, it is my turn to enter my classroom and touch the future – I teach!

Sincerely,

A Forever Grateful Student

©Copyright 2016 Scott Rhoades/Ivory Hill Studios

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Celebrating the Ordinary Guy

P1010813He wasn’t the CEO of a billion-dollar corporation, a professional football player, or an astronaut. He wasn’t a politician, a lawyer, a professor, an accountant, or a top-of-the-chart musician. He didn’t cure an incurable disease, write a best-selling novel, or discover the world’s next revolutionary invention or scientific concept. He didn’t appear on the evening news with Tom Brokaw and he didn’t make the front page of the New York Times, the local paper, or the latest edition of People magazine. He didn’t have a college degree, he was never garnished with honors and accolades, and he never left his hometown. Some may label him unsuccessful by their standards, others may consider him ordinary, but after years of observation I’ve come to know there is more to his story than one might imagine.

While many of his friends and family graduated from high school and left that small, Pennsylvania coal-mining town to pursue other dreams and adventures, he was content to stay behind and keep the lights of home shining brightly and to change the world in more conventional ways. He took a job with a local car dealership – carefully washing, waxing, and detailing the latest arrivals for the showroom floor and making the dream of “taking to the open road” an appealing reality for many. He took the occasional out-of-town trip with a local mover, relocating professional clients up and down the east coast as they pursued new opportunities and horizons. He drove a delivery truck for the local feed mill, delivering grains and goods to farms and stores and feeding households across the state. He enlisted as a member of the local volunteer fire department, protecting and serving family, friends, neighbors, and businesses throughout the valley, when fire and flood threatened or stole from years of hard work and labor. He later joined the workforce of the state highway department, where he blazed new trails and maintained thousands of miles of highways so thousands more could reach their dreams and destinations. He eventually married his sweetheart – my mom.

My dad is an ordinary guy. He is steady, unchanging, and low-key. I never knew his intentions to be self-consuming. He was never out to make a name for himself, but to provide for his family, make our lives a little bit better, and to serve his friends and neighbors. He went out of his way to help my sister and me reach our aspirations. He worked long, tedious hours under the hot summer sun, and through some very cold winter nights. He drove us to scout meetings, airshows, church camp, vacations, and college. He even sacrificed a meal at work one night so I could have a new football. I often wonder if Jim Croce knew my father when he penned the lines to his infamous song, I Got A Name: “…and I carry it with me like my Daddy did, but I’m livin’ the dream that he kept hid.”

Jesus saw the value of the ordinary guy – in fact, he hired 12 of them. Fisherman, tax-collectors, publicans, zealots, and tradesmen possessed the necessary world-changing skills applicable for the calling to the Great Commission of the New Testament Church. They weren’t necessarily all educated individuals, but each of them were created with a unique ability to spearhead the world-wide revelation of a timeless truth.

As we celebrate Father’s Day, I am reminded of the ordinary fathers who are out there today. They may not have an important title or fabulous job description. They’re not flashy or seeking public approval. They’re steady, unchanging, low-key. They’re busy serving their family, friends, neighbors, and communities in exceptionally inconspicuous ways. Today we celebrate you – ordinary guys helping others reach their lifetime dreams and eternal destinations in extraordinary times.

The Final Fight For Home

CV-6_hangar_small_Magic_Carpet_NAN12-45United States Army Medic/Private First-Class (PFC) Thomas Greene’s knuckles turned a ghastly white as he clung to the frame of his temporary cot. A cold sweat covered his pale face as his head and neck pulsated with pain from the clinching of his jaws and his rapid heartbeat. An overwhelming sense of nausea continuously swept over him as his body tried to determine left from right and up from down. The sounds and smells emanating from his 4,412 comrades and the lower deck of the ship certainly didn’t help the situation. He tightened the closure of his eyes, laid his head back and tried to remember the pleasantries of life; his wife, daughter, and his home in the hills of west-central Pennsylvania.

It was December 1945, and Operation Magic Carpet was in full motion. The transfer of millions of military troops and equipment from the World War II fields of battle was an enormous undertaking for the United States War Shipping Administration, and was not without its risks. Battleships, aircraft carriers, attack cruisers, and floating hospitals were all re-tasked to deliver GIs from around the world safely home to their family, friends, and communities. Operation Magic Carpet commenced in October of 1945, and now, after three and a half years of service with the Medical Detachment 355th Infantry Regiment of the United States Army’s 89th Division and a two month wait, it was PFC Greene’s turn to head from home. He opened his eyes once again and looked around the deck. He wondered if they would make it and if they had made the right decision.

On the 13th of December 1945, PFC Greene reported to the ports of Southampton, England for his final assignment to Operation Magic Carpet. It was a cold, brisk morning on the English coast, but nothing could distract the thousands of men who were waiting to embark on their journey home. The line was long, but the wait would be worth it! After processing the final paperwork, he clutched the straps of his bag and walked towards the waiting ships. His eyes widened as he looked at his paperwork and looked up again. It was the largest ship he ever laid eyes on, and in spite of her numerous battles, wounds, scars, and refitting, she was here to carry him home…the United States Navy’s own Yorktown Class Aircraft Carrier – USS Enterprise CV-6!

The Enterprise’s reputation was second to none. Affectionately known as the “Big E”, the Enterprise was the final aircraft carrier (commissioned prior to World War II) to survive the war. Assigned to major Pacific battles, such as Midway, Guadalcanal, and the Doolittle Raids, this massive ship and her crew helped turn the tide of the war. Now, after a complete restoration, she offered herself as a transport of honor. The Enterprise, her crew, and 4,413 passengers departed Southampton on her second magic carpet mission, a mission that would test the courage, stamina, and strength of a GI just one final time.

A few days into the Trans-Atlantic journey, the Enterprise encountered a fierce oceanic storm, causing Captain William Rees and his crew to change course northward to Greenland; delaying the GI’s pre-holiday arrival. Frustration and anger set in and opposition to the course direction were voiced across the massive boat. Captain Rees and his officers met to discuss the situation. After nearly four years of war, the men longed to go home, especially for the holiday. Believing they could indeed navigate the raging sea, Captain Rees gave the order: Course correction, westward! The final fight was on!

PFC Greene opened his eyes once again and caught a glimpse at the outside conditions. Walls of water enveloped and washed over the decks of the mighty Enterprise. The boat rocked forwards and backwards, left to right, and then right to left. As the men groaned from the sickness enveloping their bodies, PFC Greene pulled a pre-deployment photo of his family from his top shirt pocket and held it closely to his heart. As a tear ran down his face, he once again closed his eyes and prayed a silent prayer. After three and a half years of survival, liberating men, women, children, and fellow soldiers from the atrocities of war, he needed to survive this final fight; he needed to go home.

On Monday, December 24, 1945, the USS Enterprise pulled into the docks of Bayonne, New Jersey. Lifeboats, jeeps, tanks, planes, and other equipment secured to the flight deck of the ship were all but gone, broken away and tossed into the sea by the ominous waves and prevailing winds of the storm. In their place stood 4,412 GIs, along with PFC Greene, who waved and cheered as they reached their final destination. They endured the battle, and now they were home.

On this Veterans Day, I salute Captain William Rees and his officers for successfully carrying out their mission and thank them for their leadership and courage in bringing home these thousands of soldiers and my Grandfather, PFC Thomas Greene.

©Copyright 2014 Scott Rhoades/Ivory Hill Studios

Excuse Me, Have We Met?

The other day I was walking through the backyard finishing up some last-minute, outdoor projects before the winter weather arrives. When we purchased our home last year, we inherited about a half-acre of land that includes three, very large trees, and a few smaller ones – so you can imagine the amount of leaves scattered across the lawn. Raking equals losing battle.

While I was attempting to rake, I couldn’t help but notice the different shapes, sizes, and colors of leaves that had gathered on our property and I began to wonder about their lifespan; how much or how little rain they received, and how much the wind and weather had molded them into what they had now become. It also reminded me of old acquaintances and relationships that have crossed my life.

Several years ago I ran into someone I hadn’t seen in years. We began talking, but the conversation was odd and a bit uncomfortable. This person was reminiscing about the past and while the discussion was broad, it soon narrowed to some times and places I would simply rather forget.

I found myself confused about the entire interaction and questioning why that person would want to focus on failures and flaws of the past instead of the growth and goodness of the here and now. It was as if I had met them for the first time and they knew a little bit about me, but not a lot. I wanted to look at them and say, “Excuse me, have we met?”

Why did I feel this way? Why did the conversation seem so weird? Why did this person insist on bringing up so many bad memories? Didn’t they know time had moved on and things had changed?

After thinking it through for some time, it became apparent what was missing – context and perspective! You see, this person hadn’t seen me in a long while and no, they really didn’t know me.

They weren’t there to watch as I graduated from college or as I stood at the front of the church awaiting my bride to walk down the aisle. They weren’t there to watch as I took my first job or as I held the hands of numerous dying patients and their families. They weren’t there to watch me navigate circumstances of life, as I learned new and wise lessons and gained new perspectives that grew and matured me into the person I’ve become.

As I’ve mulled this over for the past few days, it serves as an important lesson for me – to allow individuals the opportunity to change, grow and mature and to view them in the context of the “here and now” and not the past. If I don’t, I may miss out on truly knowing some bright, brilliant, and colorful individuals who are purposed to do extraordinary and incredible things!

©Copyright 2014 Scott Rhoades/Ivory Hill Studios

If Only In My Dreams

It was early Thanksgiving morning when I gently pulled back the drapes and peered across the back yard into the mile-wide valley below. The upstairs hall window of my boyhood home provided the perfect vantage point to see not only a part of my old neighborhood, but a good portion of the small, coal-mining community where I spent a majority of my life. My mom and dad purchased the house in the fall of 1974 and while gazing out the hall window soon developed into a morning ritual, it quickly evolved into a lifestyle and a part of everyday life.

When local fire sirens would blare, declaring a fire emergency or accident, we’d go to the hall window. When thunder and snow storms blasted across the summit of the Laurel Highlands, threatening the security of our surroundings or delivering the promise of a day off from school, we’d go to the hall window. When we spent the night watching yet another lunar eclipse, we’d go to the hall window. When spring arrived, we’d go to the hall window. When my sister and I wanted to communicate with our friends, we’d go to the hall window. When my mom and dad wanted to voice their displeasure with my actions in the back yard, they’d go to the hall window!

I can’t tell you exactly how many times I’ve visited the hall window during my lifetime, but I can tell you it is different now. The old, original window was replaced and the view is now altered. There’s no longer an old garage in the back yard. Many of the trees I used to climb are gone. Some of the houses look the same, although a few were torn down or remodeled in some way. Several of our dear neighbors have passed away, taking their eternal rest. A handful of landmark buildings were demolished and various businesses no longer exist. The town of Nanty-Glo, Pennsylvania has transitioned from an industrial era mining machine to a quiet, quaint, and unassuming community.

They say you can’t go home again and for the longest time I shrugged it off as nonsense. I could go home again! The house was there! My parents were there! The town was still there! But, I can tell you it is different now and as I gazed out the window once more I sadly witnessed scenes, images, and people fade into the dimension of yesteryear. I desperately called out to my friends to gather once more in the back yard for a game of baseball, but no one answered. I knocked on a neighbor’s door with an offer to shovel snow from the walk, but the faces appearing were those of total strangers. I leafed through the phone book to look up the names of people I knew and they were nowhere to be found. I waited patiently by the mailbox for our trusty mailman to bring me one last piece of life-changing correspondence, but he had long since retired and passed away. With tears streaming down my face I watched as familiar people, places, and events fundamentally morphed into nothing more than a distant memory. I can’t really go home again. Nothing will truly be the same as it was years ago.

It’s the holiday season and like many of you I will make my way home once again, but this time with a divergent perspective. I will cherish the present – every moment with my family, friends and neighbors will be meaningful because these times will never come again. I will look boldly to the future and embrace the Hope of Christmas for a bright tomorrow.  I will relish the past by remembering the wonderful memories of my family, friends, neighborhood, and hometown. Yes I’ll be home for Christmas Nanty-Glo, if only in my dreams.

 

“Christmas Eve will find me, where the love light gleams.

I’ll be home for Christmas, if only in my dreams.”

 

©Copyright 2013 Scott Rhoades/Ivory Hill Studios

We’ll Always Have Banana Splits

Another Veteran’s Day has come and gone here in America. Across the mountains and flatlands of our great country, communities, organizations, and families gathered together once again to honor those whose sacrifice is forever etched across the memorials of time. We paused to remember; to find comfort, strength, example, and hope for the challenges of our tomorrows. Some turned and embraced their heroes, thankful for another day together, while others knelt beside a grave marker and wept bitterly for untimely loss and experiences unlived.

If we were to thoroughly research the lives of each veteran,  poring over battlefield notes and historical documents, examining journals and diaries, reading letters to wives and children, and conducting personal interviews, I have no doubt we would discover unique perspectives on the variable costs of freedom. While numerous accounts of personal, wartime sacrifice and heroics have already found their way to published books and Hollywood movies, there are thousands of stories left untold – stories of abandonment, relinquishment, surrender, rejection, and self-denial, mixed with achievement, conquest, adventure, and triumph. I am convinced however, that in spite of the emergence of extraordinary and rare themes from each of these experiences, we would find a singular commonality – choice!

The price of freedom requires us to make responsible, calculated decisions and whether a veteran was drafted or voluntarily enlisted, choice was the cause of the final effect. As men and women chose to take up the call for the defense of freedom, they in turn have secured our enduring freedom to choose.

One such example involves two of my uncles. As the story goes, Robert (Bob) and David (Curly) Rhoades were fairly fresh out of high school when they chose to answer their country’s call for service during the Korean War. Together, they made their way from our hometown of Nanty-Glo, Pennsylvania to the United States Army recruiter to voluntarily enlist for duty. Upon completion of the process, they were both rejected for enrollment because of one simple matter: they each weighed less than 100 pounds! Now, that might have stone-walled a few individuals from service, but being the Rhoades men that they were and not willing to accept no for an answer, they found a simple solution to the problem – they spent the next few days consuming large amounts of banana splits! Days later, they returned to the recruiter for another opportunity to enlist and successfully made the cut. Ironically, they not only became tank operators, but company cooks!

My uncles’ story and choices may seem inconsequential in the grand scheme of the world, but I can’t help sitting back and thinking about the impact of their choices on the lives of our family, neighbors, country, and the lives of South Koreans today. Thanks to their choice of defending freedom, and the extra steps they took to enlist in the service of our country, we continue to have the freedom to choose.

It’s a cold, snowy, late-autumn day here in southwest Ohio, but I think I’ll take a trip down to the local dairy mart. I know they have a wide selection on the menu and thanks to my uncles’ choice of banana splits, I have the freedom to choose from a plethora of other frosty delights.  I’ve already made my choice though….banana split. Think I’ll take it with the traditional chocolate, strawberry, and pineapple toppings…oh, and extra whip cream please. This scoop’s for you Uncle Bob and Uncle Curly – thank you for your service!

©Copyright 2013 Scott Rhoades/Ivory Hill Studios

Funeral Tribute To My Grandmother

As we celebrate the life of our mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, sister, aunt, cousin, neighbor, and friend, I am once again reminded of the exceptional characteristics and values we have learned from her and the people of this, the great Blacklick Valley – people such as you, your parents, grandparents and great-grandparents.

From the most difficult and trying of times to our best days and celebrations, you have left us with a heritage and legacy; preparing all of us to engage the future and change the piece of the world God has purposed us to transform, no matter how great or how small.

As miners, steelworkers, lumberjacks, farmers, soldiers, and wives, you imparted to us a fearless resolve to press forward in spite of life’s circumstances. You taught us to trust in God, to rely on the abilities and common sense He relegated to us, and to embrace family and friend. Without explanation or apology, you indoctrinated us in the virtues and ethics of hard work simply because “you said so.” You constantly reminded us to take pride in who we were and where we were from, so that in turn, we knew where we were going.

You were not without your imperfections, but after watching your lives I am convinced now, more than ever, that the Book of Life is more than a mere list of imperfect believers, it’s the unending, miraculous accounts of the perfections of grace.

Today, as we celebrate my grandmother’s life, it is appropriate that another member of “The Greatest Generation”, who toiled incessantly through The Great Depression, two world wars, and the era of “big coal” and steel, will be laid to rest on a day we celebrate the backbone of America and rest from our labors, and while our family may be fewer in number, we are greater than the sum of our parts because of our legacy, our heritage, and God’s love and grace.

©Copyright 2013 Scott Rhoades/Ivory Hill Studios

Unconditional Love

1011977_10200749056901224_1469286251_nWhile Nikita Khrushchev and President John F. Kennedy exchanged Cold War rhetoric on the eastern and western sides of the Berlin Wall and a popular group of young British male musicians posted their first song to the top of the charts in the United Kingdom, a handsome Pennsylvania gentleman and his lovely young bride drove through the ridges of the Laurel Highlands to set out on the adventure of a lifetime. Their story didn’t headline Walter Cronkite’s evening news, The New York Times, or even the local paper, but the joining of their hands, the twinkle in their eyes, and the collective sigh from a kiss started a whirlwind effect that would forever change this world.  For you see, to this newlywed couple, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, in good times and in bad became more than the typical marital platitude, it evolved to a concept of God’s unconditional love in action, not only towards one another, but to family, friend, neighbor, and stranger.

This passionate and compassionate love birthed a daughter and a son. It fed households across the state with large loads of grain, despite tedious deliveries from the local feed store. It clothed hundreds of women around the country, even when the quota at the local dress factory looked unobtainable. It protected and served family, friends, neighbors, and businesses throughout the great Blacklick Valley, when fire and flood threatened or stole from years of hard work and labor. It blazed new trails and maintained thousands of miles of highways so thousands could reach their dreams and destinations.

Their unconditional love helped to mend broken relationships. It listened to the cares and worries of a neighbor over a hot, steaming cup of coffee. It gave a ride to the beggar man in spite of his filth and odor on a hot summer day, and showed mercy to the careless, young prankster. It prepared not one, but two or three generations of students to capture their lifelong ambitions. It hovered over countless bedsides of the unwell, seeking to provide a relief from the pain and suffering. It cared for ailing parents and released a grandson into the loving arms of Jesus. It made lasting impressions, not so much by its footprints, but by its knee prints.

While this unconditional love wasn’t necessarily extraordinary in the eyes of publishers, politicians, or cultural movers and shakers, it was unique and life-changing to those who walked in the everyday, the ordinary, and the seemingly mundane. It made the worthless feel worthwhile. It sparked a glimmer of hope for the hopeless and dangled a silver-lining of purpose to those who sought to discover its meaning.

Lest you think this a fairytale, in no way was this unconditional love perfect, for we are all human and we all have our days. Their household was no different than yours or mine, but at the end of the day, this love mended the hurts, the scars of difficult lessons, the wounded prides,  the frustrations, the empty checkbooks,  and broken pieces and reminded us of a place where all were safe and could simply come home again.

Much has changed since 1963. We’re immersed in a culture where personal gratification takes precedent over sacrifice and service and patience has no virtue. Love comes attached with contracts, pre-nuptial agreements, and strings. It is easily discarded and tossed aside when the challenges, imperfections, and the grind of daily living become inconvenient. Over the past several weeks, I have shared my parents upcoming celebration and was often asked about the secret of their marital longevity. I simply reply, “what secret?” because there are no hidden surprises in God’s unconditional love.

Do You Remember When…?

Nearly a year ago, I had the privilege to participate in the production of a video highlighting some of the history, heritage and heroes of my hometown – an experience I will never forget. While I am familiar with many of the stories, it was an opportunity for me to gain new perspectives, to learn things I didn’t know, to reacquaint myself with names and faces of the past, to make new connections, and to deepen my appreciation for family, friends and neighbors.

Throughout this incredible project, it wasn’t uncommon for someone to turn and say, “Do you remember when…?” and we’d take a moment to add our own personal accounts of the particular event in question, laugh, or sit in reverent silence and wipe a tear from our cheek. While we managed to secure nearly 70 minutes-worth of programming, there remain many untold stories. In fact, we could no doubt return and produce a few more volumes about our small, coal-mining town.

On this Memorial Day, I will visit the graveside of my grandparents, family, friends, and neighbors. I will see familiar names, recall fond memories and ask myself, “Do you remember when…?” I’ll think about those people, places, and times. I’ll laugh and I’ll wipe a tear from my eye. Unfortunately, there are things I won’t remember, only because I wasn’t around when they took place. I only “remember” because these are the stories passed down to us from the previous generations.

I wasn’t there with Private First Class Thomas Greene and his medical detachment as the US Army’s 89th Division rolled into Germany only to discover the horrors and atrocities of hatred and evil carried out in those “camps.” I wasn’t there as his comrades were gunned down, anguishing in pain, gasping for their last breath, and calling out the name of their beloved as he bandaged their wounds and gave them their last ampule of morphine.

I wasn’t there with Paul Rhoades, who stayed behind to work the deep mines of west-central Pennsylvania to support the industrial efforts of a nation at war. I wasn’t there as he entered the mine looking for missing workers, pulling crushed bodies from the tons of coal and slate rock that fell from the mountains above and restoring the electrical system so the coal could be moved to produce steel, metals, and energy necessary to manufacture ammunition, artillery and planes.

I wasn’t there as Ethel Greene took her young daughter and moved to the family farm, awaiting her husband’s return from the European battlefields. I wasn’t there as she and her family worked from the dark, wee-morning hours until the late evenings, growing and processing their own food and preparing for the winter to come.

 I wasn’t there as Elizabeth Rhoades cared for her children, washed the laundry, stretched out the rations to make another meal, and patched the clothes for another day of wear. I wasn’t there when she wondered if her husband would survive the dangers of the earth below or if an illness would take her child.

Do I remember when…? No, but I do remember those who were part of a generation that was right for their time – just when America needed them the most. These were the ones who taught us the values of faith, patriotism, hard work, perseverance, and devotion. These were the faces of those who would sacrifice everything, so generations to come would owe nothing. These are the men and women who gave their very lives; sweat, tears, and blood, so we could know a brighter future. These are the memories I do not recall, but will forever remember.

©Copyright 2013 Scott Rhoades/Ivory Hill Studios

Day of Remembrance Part 2 – Columbia

crew_portraitMy wife bounded into the bedroom gasping for air, eyes widened, and phone in hand. “Scott, the shuttle just exploded!”  Dazed, I raised my head from the warmth of my pillow and peered over the quilt that was keeping me so comfortable on that cool February morning. I tried to make sense of what she had said. “Exploded,” I thought to myself. “No, it must be a mistake.” The Space Shuttle Columbia was in orbit, completing an exciting science mission and was to returning to Florida that morning for landing. No orbiter was scheduled for launch.

Now normally during a launch or landing, you would find me in front of the computer watching NASA video-feed, but after a long work week I was taking a few more moments of much needed rest. I jumped from my bed, headed to the living room, picked up the remote, and began watching television, shocked at what had just occurred over the skies of Texas.

Nearly two years had passed since I first met Laurel Clark and Kalpana Chawla. They, together with other representatives of the astronaut corp, gathered with us in our small university community of Indiana, Pennsylvania to mourn and celebrate the life of friend and colleague, astronaut-physician Dr. Patricia Hilliard Robertson. It was a day full of emotion, but in between the mix of laughter and tears, I will forever remember the look in their eyes and the occasional exchange of glances across the room. Gathering the spirit of courage and strength left to them by their friend had only added to their passion and unbroken determination to press forward and reach for the stars.

Months later I found myself roaming the buildings and hallways of NASA’s Johnson Space Center. It was a typical hot and humid afternoon in Houston as we entered Building 9’s Space Vehicle Mockup Facility – a large, somewhat museum-like room full of space vehicles where astronauts spend countless hours in spacecraft simulators rehearsing procedures and preparing for their upcoming missions. As we walked towards the Shuttle simulator, a tall, energetic gentleman walked towards us with a smile as big as a young boy in a candy store. Rick Husband loved what he did, there was no mistake, and he wanted us to love it too.

Ten years have passed since that tragic February morning and we have learned much about the Columbia disaster and the crew of STS-107. We’ve learned all about the potential effects of external tank foam shedding and strikes. We’ve learned new flight profiles to pitch a spacecraft end over end for in-flight inspection. We’ve learned tile repair techniques. We’ve gained insight into the results of some of the science experiments from data downloaded during the mission. We’ve come to know the personal and professional stories of each of the crew. We’ve learned there is a calculated risk and cost in exploration and discovery. We’ve learned there are risks worth taking. We’ve learned the value of teamwork, diversity, and cooperation.

But what have I learned as a result of the events of February 1, 2003? While I may have taken some lessons in discipline and determination to fuel me with inspiration to reach for a dream, today I am thankful for a greater lesson in faith and grace. To Rick and Evelyn Husband-Thompson, thank you for your encouragement not only in your story and in your book, but also in your notes. Thank you for reminding me of a grace that gives us purpose and allows us to pursue our highest calling.

©Copyright 2013 Scott Rhoades/Ivory Hill Studios