Friday, June 27, 2014

After wanting to do so for a long time, this evening I was finally able to prepare and drop off a dessert for the Wounded Warrior and Family Dinner here on Fort Sam.  I had been nervous about going, because I was not sure what to expect.  This is where the Army sends Soldiers and their families live so that the wounded Warrior can finish recovery and attend any related therapy to regain as normal a life as possible.  That said, there are a great deal of amputees and burn victims, among other equally as devastating trauma victims, reside here.  Below is my letter to these fine and heroic men and women and their courageous families.  

Dear Soldier and Family,

Tonight, I was privileged with the honor of preparing and bringing a dessert to the monthly Warrior and Family Support Center dinner.  I was nervous about bringing it, because I was apprehensive about meeting you.  Because I am a coward.  Seeing people suffer has always affected me deeply.  I see you running through my neighborhood with the special prosthetic every morning.  I see you at San Antonio Military Medical Center, wheeling yourself out of your appointments with your faithful spouse.  I see you outside the Center for the Intrepid when I am driving to another Well Baby.  I would see you limping through the lobby of the hospital, as I waddled by during the latter part of my pregnancy last year.

But, the Center is where you learn to function.  You all are there.  Relearning so much.  Trying to adapt and overcome.

So, tonight, I did it.  I walked inside.  And I saw you.  The older Soldier, balancing on one prosthetic, striding your bike and ready to ride.  I saw you, the nineteen year old, wheelchair-bound outside waiting for your ride.  The gentleman, leg mangled and casted, with his wife, who offered to lead me to the right building.  You, who from your wheelchair, stretched out your hand and introduced yourself.  Asked how many children I have.  And your wife, who told me her name and how wonderful children are.  Teased you about how you are like having a second child, as you sped off to chase a friend.

I saw you adapting and overcoming.

I followed you over to the Warrior and Family Support Center, and realized there is practically a whole town over there.  Fisher homes, barracks, a park with a playground.  There is a building for you all to gather together.  I parked.  In the time it took me to walk in with my dessert, apologize for the crumbled mess that didn't bake properly, empty my bag of the coffee cake, and return to my car, you were only just getting into your wheelchair to go inside.

I fed you tonight.  What an honor.

When I walked inside, I saw you, too.  The young men, practically kids, sitting with no arms, no legs, across the room.  Laughing and talking.  With your wives.  Your girlfriends.  Your children.

As I drove away, I rolled down my window, and called to you and your wife.

"Thank you so much for your help!  God bless ya'll!"

And she said it.  It was like a kick in the stomach.

"No problem, sweetie."  She looked me in the eye.  "Thank you for all you do."

ME?!  I don't do anything.  I live here, in this house and complain about stupid things.  Roaches.  Tendonitis.  Babies that don't sleep and wail all day.  Complain about my husband, safe for now, being so far away.  I live here.  In this house that has four walls and is my own.  With my children.  Most of the time, with my husband who has come home safely three times and, God willing, will come home safely a fourth time.  I walk.  I write.  I feed myself.  I do nothing, but be selfish sometimes.

You.  You gave everything you had.  You did not want to be a hero; you just followed orders, earned a paycheck.  You threw yourself on a grenade to save your brothers and sisters in arms.  You stepped on an explosive, not knowing it was there.  You woke up lying down, bleeding and burning in wretched pain.  And today, you smile.  Some of you stand.  You walk through the pain of an artificial leg, strap on an arm everyday.  You look in the mirror that, to me, shows the burn scars of a hero, and get past the immense change of your appearance.

You let your family help you.  At first you are angry, then you accept it.  Life is different for you.  You will never go back to the normal that existed before you left this country that day.  No, you are brave enough to move through the physical, emotional, and spiritual agony and pain to regain a new normal.

A normal that I saw tonight.  The selfless help for a lost woman.  The nineteen year old who laughed when I offered to let my four year old bedazzle his wheelchair and leg brace.  Yes, you laughed, that would be awesome!  She would do great!  The two older Soldiers who rode off on their bicycles, with three prosthetic limbs between the two of them. The young man with emaciated legs, driving his wheelchair across the street to go to his barracks.

You.  You are my biggest hero.  Because you have moved forward, despite nearly impossible odds, and fought again.  Fought a personal war so horrible, so hellish, and won.  You were sitting and standing tonight, happy.  Kind.  Confident.

You were there.  What a testament.

Please.  Do not thank me.  I am a selfish, weak human being who feigns confidence from the title Army Wife.  I am no hero.  I merely support.

You are my hero.  Despite the scars, pain, and seeming impossibility, you have won.  It may not feel like it, but in my eyes you have won.  Because you are still here, smiling.  And I would bet that annoys the hell out of the enemy.

So, thank you.  Thank you for protecting me.  For protecting my country.  For embodying freedom.  Thank you for protecting my own Soldier, for whom I take every breath, get up every morning, and continue to run this family.

Thank you.  For fighting.  For falling, and then standing up to fight again.  And winning.

God bless you.  God bless your family.

Monday, June 23, 2014

I was blessed recently to receive several bags of maternity clothes from a very dear friend.  I mentioned the clothes while talking to someone, who I hardly know, and how I am excited about any future babies with which we are blessed.  That I was hoping to have at least four children, maybe upwards of six.  But, ultimately, God is in charge.

"Oh. So ya'll are going to be the next Duggars?"

I get that a lot.  And I'm never sure what to say.  I happen to agree with that family about a lot.  God, the importance of Faith.  Raising children with morals and values.  We choose not to use birth control.  I really admire them for raising a large, faithful family.  It is by no means easy.

I do want a large family.  People ask me how many we want.  I honestly don't have a number.  I don't decide that.  I really believe that--for us.  I am not one to judge; I do not make other people's choices.  I worry only about what goes on within my family and my home.  I play a role in my family's salvation, and seek to set an example of Christ for others.  I'm not always perfect, but it's what I strive to do.  "As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord."    

But, when people ask me if I am going to be the next Duggar, I'm insulted.  Not because I don't want to be compared to a large, happy, conservative family.  Rather, do they honestly look at my children and my desire for more beautiful souls merely as numbers?  Oh, 19 kids?  Oh, you want like 12?  It's not a number game to me.  They are not statistics, not points on a number line.

Each one is a precious, unique irreplaceable soul that I am humbled and blessed to return to God.  I am loaned a person to form and protect, to teach them about love and God, and then to return each to His home.  That is what this is for me.

My precious babies; my precious people.

Nothing fulfills me more than taking care of these little people.  No, it's not always easy.  I do have days where I cannot wait to get them in bed and have time to sit down.  But, I absolutely love taking care of them.  Bathing and dressing.  Playing and chasing.  Giggling and laughing.  The hugs and kisses.  I love cooking for them, cleaning for them.  Teaching and forming them.  Serving them.

I have never been more terrified of the world as I have been since becoming a parent.  One walk through the clothing department at Target or the mall gives me a panic attack.  Little girls dressed like adult woman--like woman I would never dress like.  Teenage girls and young women wearing skirts that are smaller than the length of thigh that they show.  Like it's nothing.  Barely covering their bottoms.  I get it now--what they would say.

"That's someone's daughter."

The lingerie models, the inappropriately dressed women.  They are someone's baby.  That is a soul, a human being lent from God.  I'm terrified of raising girls.  But, I'm doing it.  One day at a time.

It's pretty easy right now.  The toddler clothes are still cute and mostly modest.  I can find shirts and skirts and pants that cover and are sweet.  Innocent.  But, my oldest is dancing on that cusp.  Most of her 5t clothes fit her, and she's only four.  Next shopping trip marks a transition I've been dreading since she was born: the girls' department.

I am, at times, fearful of raising children in this military life.  Where their father--a critical role and influence on their development--is in and out the door for long periods of time.  I'm worried about what this will do to their development, if it will negatively impact them.  I need only to take one look at my resilient, independent girls to realize that we will be okay.  Even from Afghanistan, Daddy's doing everything he can to stay involved, stay engaged.

I firmly believe that God helps those open to His will for each person.  He will not ask of you something that you cannot finish.  Cannot do well.  So, I will pray and guide and lead by example.  And be open to any more souls God would like to bless us with.

I am not trying to "be the next Duggar."  I don't think the Duggars are trying to be "the Duggars.  My family is merely making the choices we feel are right for us.  Listening intently to the plan God has for us.  One baby at a time.

And I am by no means "done."

Friday, June 20, 2014

I did not encounter this with the last deployment.  There was only one, then.  And she was so little.  She would take all of her stuffed animals from her bed and put them by the door, one by one, at five in the evening.  And then she would sit there, until I picked her up and put her at the table to feed her.  She didn't cry.  Not in the beginning.  She didn't ask for him, at first.

Because she didn't understand.

Now, that tiny one understands.  And so does her younger sister.  They wail, whine, weep.  They ask for him constantly.  They bring me the iPod, bought not for music but specifically for maintaining communication, and beg me to call Daddy.  Sorry, sweetie.  We have to wait for Daddy to call us.  And they cry again.

The Daddy dolls go everywhere with us.  The last few days, one was MIA.  I could not find it anywhere.  Emotions were high.  We found him in the car this morning.  Relief.  Sweet relief.  My tiny two year old held him all the way to daycare.  And then she wept when I left her.

"I wanna go home!  Please take me home!"

I almost acquiesced.  But the sweet daycare worker comforted me.

"She'll be alright, Mama.  She'll be ok."

Will she?  I wondered the same with my now-four year old.  She was a wreck for months when our Soldier came home for the birth of her little sister, only to leave again.  He returned home again for good, and she had horrific separation anxiety for months.  Behaved, at times, like a possessed child.  It was scary and heartrending.   Eventually, she calmed down, but we struggled with behavior issues for nearly two years.  I don't know how much of that was just toddler, and how much was a deployment and four moves within a year.

Now there's two suffering.  And I hate it.

The two year old asks about bad-guys, talks about wars.  She doesn't like wars.  Wars, she says, are where bad guys live.  Wars are bad.  My heart aches to hear this come from such a tiny person.  She shouldn't know these words, be able to verbalize these concepts.

I hear the crying at night, the begging for their Daddy.  "When is he coming home?"  "How many more days, Mama?"  Weeks, my love.  Months.  I see how prone they are to sudden crying, their breaking hearts.  They won't let go of me sometimes.  So I sit.  And I love them.

But, I see a strength that most other children their age don't have.  The four year old says we can do anything.  She smiles and calls me her battle buddy, that we will get through this together.  Because we have each other. Last week, I spoke so sharply, because my own heart was aching.  As soon as the cutting words left my mouth, I felt so guilty.  Without a word, my sweet four year old came over and just hugged me.  She knew.  She could sense it.

We've held each other crying, the three of us.  The five-month old is fine--as long as somebody feeds her.  But the three of us--we are clinging to each other.  Holding on while the hurt washes over, holding fast to comfort another's aching heart.

They are strong.  

I know they will hurt, I know they will have to deal with aspects that most children won't.  A year without Daddy.  Months without Daddy.  But, my prayer is that this forms them into more resilient adults.  Makes them stronger.  More confident.  Flexible.

I play a large role in that occurring, I know.  I must be kind, loving, stable.  I must be two parents at once.  Be a model of resiliency, of confidence, too.  But, it's also okay to let them know I'm hurting,also.  That I miss him, too.  Because that's okay.  It's a lot of pressure.  But, I have prayer.  I have Him.  And I can do all things in Christ who strengthens me. 

I know, sometimes, I approach Him like my children approach me.  Targeting my anger towards Him, wondering why He's allowing all this to happen.  Why he won't stop the phone breaking, things going wrong, the children screaming.  Why He won't help me.

Because he's my Father.

And sometimes, we have to endure things that are absolutely rotten.  Because going through the hard times, the seasons that bring us to our knees, makes us stronger, more resilient.  And we have to learn that.  The sweet little ones have to learn that.  have to learn that.  To them, I am Mommy--big, strong, grown up.  To Him, I am but another little child. His child.  And I have a great deal to learn.  My Father can't fix it, no more than I can fix it for my children.  But He is there to comfort me, show me it's okay to hurt.  Just as I am there for my children.

They will be ok.  I will be ok.
We will all be ok.

We will be stronger for this.  We will be more resilient for this.  We will get through.  Our Soldier, God willing, will come home safe and sound.  And we will have learned great lessons.

Because Christ strengthened us.

Saturday, June 07, 2014

From Nowhere, From Everywhere

I had an assignment for my graduate class, to write an essay on where I am from.  Honestly, the essay was a little hard to write since we said good-bye to our Soldier again yesterday.  But I am proud to live this life.  Mostly just proud to serve and support such an amazing man.  

I come from red, white, blue.  From greens, blacks, and browns.  Olive drab.   I come from everywhere and nowhere; I have no hometown, but have had many homes.  Everywhere.  Kansas.  Texas.  Italy.  Korea.  Many more.  There is consistency in my nomadic existence.  Moving to a new place every year or two.  It’s like a clock, ticking.  You hear it all the time.  And then the alarm goes off; you feel it.  It’s time to move on.  Time for the familiar smell of cardboard, the sound of ripping tape.  Time to say good-bye to friends you made.  And likely, you’ll never see them again.
I come from places far from extended family.  Grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins were all strangers to me.  I hardly knew them.  I kept in touch with only a few, because the others didn’t respond to letters I wrote.  The letters were the only way I knew of forging and maintaining a relationship with anyone outside of my home.  Outside of my life of change.
I come from constant change.  Nothing ever stays the same.  Homes change.  Locations change.  Languages changed.  His role in our family changed.  Here and then gone, here and then gone.  Tearful good-byes, sporadic phone calls, trips to the airport to pick him up.  Again.  Watching Mom sleep alone, sit alone, eat alone, live alone, function alone.  Wondering how she did it, wondering if her heart hurt as much as mine did. 
I come from watching him serve.  Serve others.  Serve us.  Serve his country.  Our country.  Watching him leave at 5 a.m and come home at 7:30 at night.  Respond to emails and phone calls constantly.  Working out, staying fit.  Staying ready.  Ready for the call.  The call that, lucky for him, never came.  Though, it came in other forms.  Watching him lead, direct.  Implement change and good in the hospitals.  Watching him change and benefit lives.  People.  Because he saw them as people. Never did I think I would find someone as humble and serving as him.
I come from choosing to reenter this life.  From meeting him, and knowing he had that serving heart.  I come from knowing what I said yes to.  I do.  I will.  Serving him, who serves us.  So noble, so humble.  So giving to us, to his men and women in uniform.  To his family.  He loves deeply, commits deeply, gives deeply.  Inspires me deeply.
I come from constant good-byes.  For long periods of time.  From rocking wailing children, aching with separation.  From hugs and kisses.  I come from War.  I come from praying for peace, strength.  Patience.  I come from resiliency, but also from exhaustion.  I come from pride in him, in our country.  I come from knowing firsthand what we give..  Our lives together.  Our evenings, our memories that we’ll never make, our time together with our children. 
I come from lying in bed alone at night, fighting the ache in my heart, praying he’ll come home soon. Just praying he’ll come home.  Praying I’ll hear his breathing next to me again.  I come from worry—fear of death, fear of the doorbell.  I come from breaking down, giving release to hot tears, when no one is looking.  I come from Faith.  Hard, real Faith.  Because, sometimes, Faith is all I have to grasp.
I come from what we call family, though we share no real relation.  I come from those who will drop everything to come help.  Bring dinner.  Bring flowers.  Hugs.  And wine.  Who will hold you tight when you are aching and watch your children so you can catch your breath.  And I do it for them.  I come from the Family who understands what you give.  Understands separation.  Because they give it, too.  They live the separations, too.
I come from Welcome Home!  Posters, tears, hugs.  I come from the other end of, “Thank you for your service.”  You’re welcome.  I think.  From the house strewn with decoration.  With red, white and blue.  I come from trying, again, to find normal for us, a new normal.  Giving up control, letting him lead again. I come from trying to refit our lives together.  Struggle, friction, humility.  Being home.  Together.  I come from cherishing every moment—every single moment—because we don’t know when the call will come.  The call to go.  Again.

            Me?  I come from nowhere, because I come from everywhere.

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

Charlie Mike. Again.

It's all bringing back so many horrible emotions and memories I never wanted to feel or remember again.  The packing.  The shopping.  The preparation for separate lives.  The children.  The poor, poor children.  It's so different this time, and yet so much the same.   I didn't want to go back to this again.

We are preparing the household, purchasing gear, stocking the house.  He's packing bags.  Tonight.  Buying socks.  Locks.  Duffle bags.  I'm writing his name on those red luggage tags.  The same kind I wrote on in our little house in Killeen.   When he left the last time.  We are having realization hit us after living in denial.  We just found out a few weeks ago, and here we are.  On the eve of his departure.

I have a picture of little Elizabeth sitting on his bag from the last time.  Now, we have three young ones that could sit on the bag.  Crazy.  Three little ones who, despite their young age, have to live without their father.  Again.

Four months.

Adrienne, you are whining?  About four months?!  At least it's not a year.  That's what that 1st Cav wife in me is yelling.  No.  Praise God!  It's only four months.

But it's still four months.  Four months of worry--fear of the doorbell.  Four months of evenings far too quiet and still.  Four months of holding down the homefront with three children four and under.  Four months of children living without their father.  Wondering why he left.  Wondering where he went.  Four months following several months of severe illnesses.  Of caring for a newborn that has had feeding and health issues since long before her birth.  Handling all of it.  Alone.

I'll be honest.  There are moments that the crippling fear surfaces.  Those voices of doubt arise.  It's then that I want to give release to the hot, urgent tears threatening behind my eyes; to beg, plead with him not to go.  But, instead I say a prayer, grasp for God, and move forward.  Because he deserves better.  He deserves strength and courage.  Love and support.  Hugs and affirmation.  Because I am confident I will handle this with grace.

Yes.  I will do this.  Tasks will take longer, and require that incessant pre-planning for the most efficient way of accomplishing them.  Leaving the house will be an endeavor.  Church will be a comedy show sometimes.  But, we'll do it.  We'll push through.  I will wipe tears, pray for patience as I deal with another meltdown from frustration.  I will swallow the knot in my throat as I explain for the hundredth time that Daddy's on his long trip.  He's not coming home for awhile.  I will dole out three times the hugs and kisses, make extra time for cuddling.  Fill our lives with rest, relaxation.  And activities to keep us busy.

I will finish my last graduate class.  Hopefully write my thesis.  Sweet Elizabeth has tumbling classes.  We will venture down to the park, picnic basket in tow.  I am going to make pasta salad (he hates pasta salad), and bean salad and we'll eat like queens.  All of us.  We will attempt a road trip or two.  We will have Movie Nights and I'll let them take long baths.  We will dance to music.  We'll spend our mornings lazing at the pool.  We will run in the freshly cut grass in the evenings.  And we will laugh.  We have plans.  Not merely to survive.  But plans to thrive.

And, when no one is looking, doubtless I will give release to those tears when the day has been extra hard.  I'll give my struggles to my Lord.  And, when I have no more tears to cry, I will stand up and move forward.  For him.  For our girls.

Four months.  Yes, I can do it.  Will do it.  Forget those insecurities--I have lived this.  I have survived this.  I have attained victory in this.

Charlie Mike.