Monday, September 22, 2008


Warning: This is a very long and rambling post. I'll try to get a more normal post up here soon! For now there are pictures at the bottom, if you just want to skip down there!
ESOAL: Emotionally Stretching Opportunity of A Lifetime

Esoal started last Wednesday night. I headed up to TM campus for a session around 7:30 with my friend Alisa. We dropped off a set of clean clothes (for after) and a sleeping bag and headed in to a session where they talked a little bit and prayed for us and then sent us out to sleep on the football field. I wasn't allowed to wear a watch, so I don't have any idea what time it was, but I'd guess it was maybe 9:00-ish. Then a few hours later they woke us up and ESOAL officially began!

It was intense. That is the best word I can come up with to describe it. For those that don't know, esoal is run like a military boot camp. The participants are split up into companies and in platoons within those companies. We reported directly to a major, who was in charge of us the entire time. The general, who runs the whole thing, is my brother-in-law (but don't think that I got any special favors by being related to him!).

My body was pushed beyond what I thought I could do. Actually, today I can hardly walk! We ran, we marched (and marched, and marched!), did push-ups, jumping stars (AWFUL!), crunches, ran two different obstacle courses, corporate exercise, ran relays involving crab walking, low-crawling, bear crawling, and/or leapfrogging the entire length of a football field. One example of an exercise they had us do was lunges all the way down a very long, winding hill. Then we were to sprint back up to the top. Our entire company did not make it back up in the alloted time, so we had to do PT (Physical Training) as punishment. When we had trouble doing what they asked with excellence (if I remember correctly, we were doing jumping stars--ouch!), we had to lunge the hill and sprint up it again. And that is just the physical side of esoal.

The emotional side of esoal is so much harder than all of that. I am still processing all that I went through and learned, and I'm not sure that I am ready to write about it yet. I will say that God was there with me every step of the way and I came to fully and truly believe Philippians 4:13 "I can do everything through Christ who gives me strength" and relied heavily on that truth this past weekend.

There was precious little down time during esoal. We went from one evolution to the next with no breaks. If we happened to win a contest or arrive someplace first, our major would reward us with a 60 second-two minute break. That was rare, as my company was the only all-female company and we did have trouble competing against the males in the physical challenges. We did win the dance contest, however! We did a routine to the song "Joyful, Joyful" from one of the sister act movies. It was awfully cute, and our major really wanted us to win so she gifted us with some great costumes to help out! Anyway, back to the point. With no down time, it is difficult to really reflect on everything that you are learning and taking in.

I lost three pounds during esoal. Sam said, "That's all?" and I thought to myself, how much would you expect to lose in four days? :) The food of esoal is very interesting. Nothing is warmed up. For breakfast we had cold grits. Those were a little difficult to choke down. We had lentils once or twice. We had a few different types of beans with a roll at lunch or dinner. They would just hand each of us a styrofoam cup of cold beans with a roll stuck in the top. No spoon, no anything else. And one day we had an icky-food relay. (It probably had a better name than that, but I'm not really sure.) They lined up 10 different things on a table and we had to each go up one at a time and choose one thing to eat. There were only five in my platoon at the time, so we each had to go twice. Some of the things weren't SO bad (I ate pickled okra) and some were even good (jelly beans, a hershey bar). The girl next to me was having trouble finishing her entire can of spam when I went up there, so our lieutenant decided I should finish it for her--let me just say that was not my favorite moment!

Another challenging part to esoal is that you wear the same clothes that you arrive in all weekend. Esoal began Wednesday night and ended Sunday morning. One of the first things we did after sun-up on Thursday was run the obstacle course (the first part is running through waist-deep water, and we were told to dunk to our shoulders), so we were wet the entire time. There were plenty of other opportunities to get wet also. "The motivator" is a trough filled with ice water that they had us stand in a number of times. Another part of the oc is low crawling through a pit of squishy, stinky mud. Also they demand excellence, so when you mess up (say something you aren't supposed to say, count out the wrong number during exercises, miss a step during the moves, etc...) there is a punishment. Sometimes that might just be a set of push-ups, but sometimes it was "get wet and sandy" which meant running down to the pond, dunking to your shoulders and then rolling around in the sandy volleyball court. Sometimes the punishent was to roll in the squishy mud. And there was always a facilitator there to make sure you didn't cheat yourself and only get a little bit muddy.

Before esoal began, we were given a set of Bible verses, a 6 x 6 grid of countries, and a hymn that we were told to memorize. Also it was suggested that we would want to know many random facts about our state (our company state was Wisconsin). I only commited to esoal a week and a half before it began, so the memorization was a little difficult for me. Those things all come up at different times during esoal and we are asked to quote a verse or find a country off of the grid. Of course, if you get it wrong, there is punishment!

Every where that we "traveled" (moving from one place to another) we had to carry a flag (the Wisconsin state flag) and each platoon had to carry a very large cross. Part of the way through esoal I was promoted to 2nd lieutenant, so I was in charge of carrying the flag. I wasn't really excited to do it, but I really ended up loving it. It put me in a leadership position within my company and I really felt like I was responsible for the well being of the other girls.
Also, there is a great big bell that gets carried around everywhere that we go. Whenever someone decides that they have had enough and want to quit (or if they are injured and forced to quit), they "ring out" and are sent home. Those that do not ring the bell are referred to as finish finishers, meaning they made it completely through esoal. I am one of those. :)

It might sound awful, but it was really an incredible time. There were 10 from my company that finish finished. I am so proud of each and every one of these girls! And the others that rang out earlier--they are some TOUGH girls. I watched each one of them push themselves further than they thought physically possible and SMILE through the entire thing. Our company was filled with JOY because the joy of the Lord was our strength.

On to the pictures, already!
Here is me (320, because at esoal you don't have a name, just a number) with my good friend 319 (Alisa Stoner).

Just showing how FILTHY I was at the end! I had a bandage across my hand for not even 24 hours and this is how the rest of my skin looked! East Texas is full of red dirt, so all the mud and everything is really red. And yes, so was my skin. :)

Marching in place. I think we were singing a cadence with the entire division.

Talking with the General after the end of esoal.

Wisconsin company finish finishers! An absolutely AMAZING group of women.

Thank you, Lord, for this amazing opportunity. I will never forget the things I learned this past weekend, and I never would have been able to make it without you to rely on and carry me through. Thank you for each of the women that went through this with me. I pray that you would richly bless each and every one of them and I thank you that we were all able to connect so well with one another. I am a changed woman and I know that you will continue to mold me using the lessons that I have taken away from esoal. I love you, Jesus!


~Just A Thought Ginger said...

Great job Lisa! You did it! Did you have to eat the beans and roll down the hill? Yuck!

I'm sure this will stay with you forever. Alicia thought it was amazing that you stepped up and participated.

Alicia was working under Dave at the time she took part. She rung out shortly before the end and it was hard on Dave to see her stop. She was proud of her efforts and I think Dave was proud of her as well. Life changing, that's for sure.

Kim said...

What a mind-blowing experience!

I envy your strength for choosing to be part of this challenge in the first place, but actually getting through it.... WOW!

I can't wait to hear more of your stories. When we were talking today, I know my jaw was on the ground for most of the conversation!

Just Mom said...


You going to sign up to be a Navy SEAL now?

Marybeth said...

Lisa- I feel so, so proud of you! Just these few details, together with what I have seen of ESOAL in the past and the little I saw of this year make wonder HOW anyone- especially a mom with 3 kids! can do this. And every time I saw you- you were smiling! I know that wasn't possible the whole time and that God really stretched you. I'm STILL anxious to talk to you! Love you!!! Get some MORE rest and sleep! Drink lots of water and juices and get over your cold quickly! I love you!

Andrea said...

That sounds amazing.
I would love to do something like that.