Thursday, July 28, 2011

I remember I felt vulnerable, awkward. Like someone had torn my clothes off and shoved me naked onto a precarious stage where not only was I supposed to stand, but where I was supposed to look good while doing it. Look Happy. Confident. I was supposed to make it look easy.

Richard had just left.

And we were on our second or third Sunday alone at Mass. We'd made it through another week, but we were also starting another. I felt the small victory of a Sunday, of a week, but also sensed the pressure of another looming week. We were surviving. Barely. Adjusting. Still.

"Hey! How are you?" I looked over to where the conversation was unfolding.

"Good--hanging in there."

"How long has he been gone now?"

"About six months."

I was struck for a moment. All I could do was stare at her. I noticed the resiliency mixed with weariness that appeared for a few moments on her face. I remember thinking, "Wow, she's halfway there." I had a long road before I could claim that victory, I thought. But, she had made it. And she was still standing.

And now, I find myself staying the same: "About six months." And the fatigue from the last half appears on my face, mixed with the victory of still standing. And we still have another six months.

Six months ago I saw a hero, an inspiration, though she had no idea. Today, I see myself in her. We are a week shy of Half Way Day, which is scrawled on all of my calendars in huge letters. Six months. I survived six months. And feel a sense of victory...and I feel a little tired. I have walked through fire, as I stood in doctor's offices alone scared that my daughter had cancer. I've spent nights terrified to fall asleep because I haven't heard from my husband and I'm praying those uniformed officers don't show up at my door. I've gotten that dreaded message: "in the hospital, and bleeding... [rest of message cut off]" and waited, sobbing for the rest of that sentence to come through. I've been dragged to my knees in cold sweat and hard tears, simply from loneliness. I've sat up, covered in vomit with a sick toddler. I've nearly made it through a pregnancy alone, despite that dark moment that I thought I was losing another child.

I've stood on that stage naked and, despite the darkness, I made it look good.

I've held it together, put on a joyful face even when that was the last thing I wanted to do. I've made it through winter, sweated through a summer, and am gearing up for Fall. I've survived six months without my best friend, and our relationship has grown. I've been through fire--Hell--and I'm still standing.

Yes, I've got six months under my belt. Yes, I've made it to Half Time and survived. But, I've got another six long months ahead of us. I still have to deliver a child by myself, adjust a household to a new member, survive six weeks of no sleep. And I have to do it alone. I have to juggle that, while lovingly raising a toddler. And there is, I'm sure Crosses facing me that I cannot yet see. We still have time left to get through.

But, despite that I will celebrate. I will dance. I have survived the first half of my First Deployment, and am truly a better person for it. Because, despite the distance, the heartache, the fear, I have grown, my marriage has grown. My daughter smiles, laughs. We have built beautiful memories together that I cherish. We've overcome obstacles, big and small. And we are still standing.

So, next week, I will take a moment to stop. Thank God. We four in this family are still here, thank God. Though separated by half a world, we are still here. Elizabeth still plays and laughs. I still survive and hold down the homefront. Our unborn child still kicks and moves. Richard still stands and fights. Thank God.

We will survive the last part of this deployment. By God. Nothing has beat me now. And, sure as my word, nothing will beat me--beat us-- in the next six months.

Charlie Mike, baby.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

They're just over there to kill people.

Nothing makes my heart hurt more, my blood boil faster, or my family pride ruffle more quickly. My husband. His brothers in arms. Over there to kill people.


I understand people don't agree on the war. People don't agree on politics or presidential administrations. People don't agree on military presence in the middle east. I understand that. People will never agree on these things. And that's what makes America beautiful. We are entitled to our opinions, our beliefs, our arguments.

But have some tact, people.

My mother always said, "It's not what you say, it's how you say it." So true. When I discuss the wars, the administration, the politics, typically I am not the one to bring it up. I also do not tend to advertise my husband's profession and my current situation. I just argue my point, when pressed. And then I quietly back out. I've been involved in respectful arguments, where the other person expressed their beliefs without insulting or degrading the military.

Then I've heard, "Well, they're just over there to kill people." And I've heard it a lot. Sometimes, they don't know my story. Other times they do. Either way, I do not understand.

My husband did not sign up for the Army to kill people. He did not pack his bags for a year-long deployment three times now, to kill people. He did not board a bus, he did not leave his young daughter and pregnant wife, he does not serve his country to kill people.

He does it because he loves his country. He does it because he loves his friends, his family, his wife, his daughter. He serves because he has such a profound love and respect for what it means to be American.

I've met many of his Army buddies, with whom he's served--fine, upstanding young men and women who inspire me and for whom I have the utmost respect. The same applies to them: they serve because they love.

Whether or not you agree with the war, with the administration, with the current politics. Whether your arguments lie more conservatively or liberally, tea party or Obama's party, I encourage you to exercise your right to your opinion--that which my husband and his fellow Soldiers fight so hard for. But, I implore you to choose your words carefully, tactfully, respectfully.

These men and women do not choose their vocation lightly. And nor do they do it to "kill people."

Friday, July 22, 2011

"Let me just tell you." I got closer to the camera. "The wife and mother you left at the beginning of this deployment is very different from the wife and mother you will come home to."

I remember vividly, standing at the beginning. Wondering how I would get through all the inevitable challenges and Crosses that would befall us while he was gone. Wondering if I was truly as strong as everyone was saying. Wondering if I would break.

I haven't broken. Not yet.

I've grown. Stretched, which is a painful process, but rewarding afterwards. During the moments, either through chance or choice, that I felt like my entire body and soul were being pulled and stretched in ways unimaginable, I honestly didn't know how I would come out on the other side. Bitter or victorious? Angry or relieved?

This deployment--this war--is filled with smaller battles that Elizabeth and I have endured together. Scary battles, annoying battles, personal battles. But, despite doubting myself at the start of each, I came through each a stronger and more flexible person. I've learned so much about myself. Realized how much truly I can endure. More than I had thought. And we are still here, still fighting.

I am stubborn.

And so, this last week, when we tackled potty training amidst fluctuating pregnancy hormones and a very confused toddler, I didn't know if we were going to pull it off. Tuesday night, I was ready to pack it in. Raise that white flag.

"Give it one more day, Adrienne." My far-off battle buddy encouraged me. She must know what she's doing. She's gotten three children out of diapers.

And we did it. Laugh if you want. But moments like that--hard-fought battles that we win--are the very moments that make me realize I can survive the last six months. That I can endure the remaining battles, whatever they maybe. I will make it through giving birth alone, through the first six weeks with a newborn and toddler. And we will come out the other side stronger, better, victorious.

So, I move forward. Maybe a little tired now, maybe a little weary. But, I move forward. Battles will be won, the war will end. And we will come out of the other side victorious.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Sundays are always good days for me. The day that our Soldier left, was a Sunday. If he had to leave (which he did because I tried compromising with Uncle Sam. Don't bother trying to compromise with him--he's very stubborn), I am glad he left on a Sunday. It was the start of a week, and as a church-going person, I am grateful for the graces at Mass every Sunday. It's kind of like a celebration with God--we've made it through another week and are pepping up for another one.

But, Church alone with a toddler can adventure. It's much like a precarious game of dominoes: getting up on time so I can get ready on time. Get daughter up so I can get her ready on time. Get out of the house at a certain time so I can arrive on time, get a parking place on time, and get a seat on time. Mess even slightly with one of the dominoes, and the entire set comes crashing down. And that makes me mad.

But, this morning, our adventure took it's own path, much to my chagrin. Everything in my power happened on time--the shower, the breakfast, the waking of daughter, the leaving...only to discover that some moron had siphoned my gas tank in the middle of the night. So, picture seven-months pregnant me, careening down the road on "Ten Miles Till Empty," screaming a tirade of profanity-free comments to the thief. Needless to say, we did not make to Mass on time this morning.

Regardless, Elizabeth was mostly well-behaved. She got fussy a few times, but by the sermon, I was beginning to relax a little. Big Mistake. Never relax with a toddler. Especially at Mass. I let my guard down.

Elizabeth has a growing vocabulary. She is also clearly ready to be potty-trained. She started whispering to me, "Mommy. Stinkies." I winced. Not now. I looked in her diaper. Thank you, Jesus. She was all clear. "You don't have stinkies, Elizabeth." Five minutes later again: "Mommy. Stinkies." "No. You're fine."

Don't ignore a toddler.

After several attempts at whispering to me about her nonexistent dirty pants, she finally lost it. Lifting up her full skirted dress, she pointed to her diaper, and yelled, "Mommy! Stinkies!" Everyone in a five-pew radius around us laughed. And you know what? So did I.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

"Gr! I hate when they say that, Elizabeth! 'Come home soon!' Like the guys have any control over that! You know what I mean?" Before I could even glance down to my 20 month old, she responded emphatically,


Best. Battle buddy. Ever.

We want it to end. We do our utmost best to make the uncomfortable, the painful, the drudgery end. And it's awful when we realize that we have no control. Instead, we are left with a clear choice: whine and be miserable, or keep walking forward with each painful step. It can only be compared to walking in the desert--we bemoan our fate, or we move closer to that unseen but undeniable end.

Recently, I have walked through two deserts of my own. Silent but miserable, I trudged forward, doing what I could to ease the suffering but knowing that ultimately I could not avoid it. I had to finish the journey through the wasteland. No one knew the intimate darkness that surrounded me. I realized very quickly that there was no answer to quickly end it. I had to give all to Him and just move forward on faith.

I finally found some semblance of peace and relief to my little Crosses.

But, it made me realize I am powerless. While these little splinters were resulting from the deployment, and fairly short-lived, I could do nothing to make them end. The same goes with this year separated from my Soldier.

I can whine, be miserable, complain. Much like our biblical ancestors, I can question what in the world God was thinking when He gave me this suffering, took my husband from me to a dangerous place. I can complain there is no relief, no water, no end in sight. And, sadly, I have had a few days like this.

Or, I can trudge forward. Through the light days, when joy and peace abound, and through the days when it's tough to get out of bed. I can find grace in the suffering, joy despite the dark, happiness in knowing it's temporary. I may not know exactly when he'll be home, but I move forward all the same. Because he will be home. God will get us through. And we'll be out of the desert and in our little promised land.

So, now I focus on cultivating and maintaining an attitude of fortitude and patience. Maintaining now not only a joyful countenance, but also a joyful heart. After all, a smile means nothing if there is no true happiness behind it. Despite the dark days, there will be happy days. Despite the lengthy time we still have, the days are moving forward towards Homecoming. And even though this life gets weary and hard, I still have this life. With my daughter, my husband, and our unborn child.

Lord, help me to continue building a positive attitude that, ultimately sees You at the end. Because without You, we have nothing.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

I did it!!!

I used to be Miss Independent. Going places alone, doing things alone didn't phase me. I could drive to the store alone, I slept in my own bed. I spent evenings and nights alone with no problem.

Then I got married.

And I quickly adjusted (and happily so) to driving places with my husband, sharing a bed with him, and spending my nights and evenings with another person. And the more time that went by, the more ingrained that joy became.

You can do this. It's not a big deal. It's only four hours. You're being silly.

Pulling out the suitcases, my pulse started racing. Finishing the laundry, my breath was quick. Gathering things into the den, my mind was racing. And that infuriated me!

You've already committed--and you need this!! And Elizabeth will be fine. Even if she gets upset, it will pass.

I began putting clothes in the suitcases and the suitcases in the car. I wanted to get out of town, I wanted to spend the weekend with my aunt and her family. But, I was terrified of driving there and back. Alone. And that mortified my pride. I was so surprised how intimidated I was, so I forged forward. As I pulled out of town, as I merged onto unfamiliar highways, as Elizabeth began to fuss, part of me wanted to turn back to that which was familiar, that which was comfortable. But, I pushed forward.

And, four hours later, I pulled into her drive. Victorious. Today, three and a half hours later, I pulled into my drive, victorious again. I had done it. I had done a road trip with Elizabeth. Admittedly, this prospect had terrified me since Richard left. He made me promise to go places. And the first chance I had, I did. And I overcame an obstacle. I grew.

It sounds silly. But, for a wife and mother who's best friend is missing, the comfortable and familiar becomes a lifeline. Being away from home, entering unfamiliar territory is terrifying. Elizabeth goes with me everywhere, because she is my battle buddy. She's my family--my 20 month old is my security. I can't imagine having made it this far without her. But even stepping out of our comfort zone together can paralyze me with fear. And it did.

But, I did it. I drove four hours, had a blast of a weekend. All the stress from the past six months that had built up into ten 900 pound gorrillas on my back disappeared as soon as I hit the Tatum city limits. I spent three days in a place so relaxing and removed that I forgot to carry my cell phone with me and missed some text messages from my husband. I got out a few hours for some time with my aunt while Elizabeth played with the horses and my uncle. I slept--well. I ate. I laughed. And then I drove home.

This life is so hard. It's full of overcoming fear and emotion. It's constantly putting others before me for the sake of my husband. It's pretending to be strong when I feel weak, and pretending to be brave when truly I am a coward. But, it's also an opportunity to grow, to overcome. To take chances. To let little things make a big personal impact.

I did it! And I grew. Again.

Sunday, July 03, 2011

I love Independence Day. The barbecues, the swimming, the fireworks. The colors--red, white, and blue. The songs that warble all day long. Driving through neighborhoods and seeing the Star Spangled Banner hung on most homes. The flags lining the sidewalks. The solidarity. The pride.

This year, Independence Day is really hard for me. I see Old Glory, hear the songs, listen to the speeches and sermons, and it all reminds me of the tremendous sacrifice I am making for what all of those symbols represent.

I stood in the back of Mass this morning with a very fussy toddler, not feeling my best because of the baby kicking me from the inside. I was counting down the minutes until Mass was over, could take my screaming daughter home. "Sorry, Jesus." I thought. And then I looked down and saw her hand snake under his arm and enter his. My heart hurt.

I miss that.

"Remember the sacrifices that are being made so we can keep our everyday liberties. The love for this country, and the responsibility that goes with it..." the priest encouraged.

I understand that.

"What's that?" The older lady asked her grown daughter, pointing to it. "Her husband's gone--it's a Daddy Doll." She whispered back.

I love that.

"How are you holding up, sweetheart?" Our parishioner-friend gathered me into her arms. "Fine--hanging in there." I replied, attempting to maintain my image. "Really?" She could see right through me...and held me a long time.

I need that.

It's different this year. It's all a very painful reminder of the man who I've sent off twice now to go defend the flag, the songs, the fireworks, the people. The solidarity and pride. It's an achy reminder of the girls he left behind, missing their lives while we miss his. It's the getting up every morning and fighting my way through another day, it's staying strong as we journey through the doldrums. It's striving to find the joy, the happiness, the peace God places in our daily lives despite what is temporarily absent.

I'm proud to be an American where, if nothing else, at least I know I'm free. I will not forget the men and women who have fought far away, some even dying, who give this right to me. I may wake up in an empty bed, but I have a bed inside a home. I may eat at an empty table, but I have a table in a kitchen. I may sit in a pew with a cranky toddler, I may lie awake at night, I may shed hard tears when no one is looking. But that is my God-given right, those are my God-given blessings. And it is my husband who provides those blessings, first by his job but moreso by fighting for my freedom.

As you sing along to the songs this year, as you bite into your burgers, as you enjoy your day off, remember the men and women who have given so much for your very freedom. Remember the families, spouses, children, babies they leave behind. Remember those who, after having given all, are laid to rest under marble while their families look on.

It is not the fireworks, the anthems, the food we celebrate this year. Instead, we celebrate victory, and the constant battle for it. We honor those who fight for this, and we remember those who have died for it.

God bless America.