Haunted

The story about the 21-year-old air force mama of three and her baby girl (who is my youngest’s age) dying of neglect keeps circling around in my brain. The response it’s gotten from people, especially military spouses, does too. How messed up is it that in our little MilSpouse microcosm culture we have both the message of, “Put on your big girl panties and deal with it [the unspoken part is on your own, you whiner],” AND also the message of, “Well we have all these resources why didn’t YOU reach out and grab onto them?” How does, “Deal with it yourself!” work on one side of the equation and, “You should have asked for help!” work on the other?

Never mind the fact that there are SO MANY resources it’s hard to know where to start. There are so many MEDIOCRE resources that it’s hard to know what will really help. And there are so many mixed messages about needing help and getting help out there that it makes one afraid to take a step.

I don’t know why this one has hit me so hard. They all do to one extent or another–these stories, I mean. Volunteering with PSI, every month or two I’m on the phone with a Mom who is depressed, has a baby, and doesn’t know what to do and I worry that this is one of my ladies. Even more I grieve that maybe this is someone who didn’t know there was help to be had and what if they’d just found an email address or a phone number to reach out to. Maybe it’s because she has three kids and that baby’s age hits me hard. Or maybe it’s because I’ve felt the beginning of the slow spiral myself these last couple of months of feeling so freaking overwhelmed again. When she says, “I was just so tired of changing the sheets,” I don’t cringe with outrage and self-righteousness. I cringe with recognition of the emotion (thank God I’ve not sunk to the point of the actions).

I just keep thinking something needs to shift so this doesn’t happen anymore or at least as often. I keep wondering if she could have just had someone, someone who had been through it all, or come through something similar, to put her arms around her and hug her tight and say, “You’re NOT alone, you’re not to blame, and with help you can be well,” and then to help her sift through the resources to find ONE that might help.

I keep thinking that we need to purge out the resources that do nothing, and focus on the ones that do what they do well and make it easier for everyone to get to those.

And more than that I keep thinking that we (military spousedom) HAVE to stop eating one another alive. Telling people to suck it up when they are in profound pain to the point that they can’t function well enough to care for themselves or their babies doesn’t work. Shaming people who are brave enough to tell the world that these things are hard and are sometimes more than they can bare on their own has to stop. Telling smug anecdotal stories about how you came through similar circumstances just fine and that other wives in your particular historical era did too does nothing to help (and just makes me want to ask you, “Ok. Fine, but what about the ones who DIDN’T make it through, who succumbed to something like this or equally as tragic?”). If we can’t make our community a safe place to fall, then people are going to keep falling through the cracks and dying from the shards of glass we’ve stabbed into their backs in the process.

Most of all, I want to rewind the clock by a month or so and move next door to this woman… And then have the fortitude to get to know her instead of being a hermit like I so often do. And I want to put my arms around her, and help her sift through the resources, and tell her she is not alone. I want to move one of the incredible women I’ve encountered who have come alongside me and done life with me and seen me and heard me-whichever one of us would have been able to reach through the fog to help her–right down the block from her and I as well.

And that really means that I need to be the person on my own block right now, looking for the Mom who is overwhelmed, the kids who are just a little too hungry and needy. I need to be the kind of spouse that I want around when the bottom seems to be falling out and all of the “ANDs” of life pile up. I might not be able to fix this, and I can’t save anyone–it’s not my job. But I can be a good friend, and sometimes that is an incredible lifeline.

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Reaching Out…

Bloggy friends–Will you pray?

Because some big things have happened in recent weeks.  And they are mostly VERY GOOD things.  But they are all very BIG things and very LABOR INTENSIVE THINGS.

And they are overlapped with my body feeling VERY BROKEN.

And I am VERY OVERWHELMED.

Would you pray?  Pray for healing of my body?  For God to provide help and sustenance and strength when I am out of it?  For encouragement for my husband as he endures tough things in the short term to get to things to be very proud of in the long term?  Would you pray for support and community in places it seems to have faltered?

Would you pray that in the midst of this ultimately good, I would not get waylaid by the stress and the panic of the momentary logistics that seem so big and my abilities that seems so inadequate?

***My husband made chief (which in the Navy carries with it great traditional honor along with a six week, very intense induction).  We close on a house next week and move immediately after.  My back is bad enough that I may need surgery.  It’s all just stacked.***

Would you please, please pray with both thanksgiving and supplication for and with us?

It’s not always happily ever after…

I have been discouraged.  I have been disheartened.  I have been downright blue.

The happily ever after that you expect to come when a homecoming happens never lasts very long and this time it was especially short.

When Husband’s plane landed, his grandfather was dying.  All treatment had been stopped and our family had begun the long inhaled breath of waiting.

And I…  have been in pain for months and the pain was only getting worse.  I’d fought for a scan.  I’d fought to make sure the doctors knew that I HURT and it WAS NOT getting better.  I had a CT scan a few days after husband came home.

A week after he returned we flew to Texas to be with our family.  Andrew’s grandfather was an Iron and Steel steam-engine of a man.  He didn’t give up on anything in life easy and he wasn’t going to surrender to death easy either.  Husband sat long by his bedside with other members of the family and 15 days–15 DAYS–after life-sustaining measures and nutrition was discontinued (he’d been on a feeding tube), he made his home-going.  We were so grateful that we could be with our family for those last few days and for the services to celebrate his life.

But it was hard.  So very hard.

On the flip-side of that trip, we came home to no news about my CT scan.  I had to boar and bully my way to the results and when we finally got them there was relief that the pain wasn’t caused by anything sinister like a tumor nor were there any surprising or concerning incidental findings but there was…  is…  a herniated disc in my back.

The pain is literally a pain in my tuckus.  But also numbness and tingles shooting down into my foot.    I’m sure lots of you who have had a herniated disc are nodding your head.  he pain has been bad for four months now, and I’ve never believed I was cut out to have chronic pain as a part of my story.  Maybe I am a wuss.  Maybe life has just been kind to me in the pain department, but the pain has been hard to ignore, hard to work around, and a definite drag on my spirits.  Some days it’s all I can do not to cry and whine about it all the time.

So life has been its usual dose of fast and furious loop-de-looping upside downing roller coaster.

And I find that I’m thankful that I worked so hard to remember where to hang my hope, or else the thud of it all could have been devastating.

What I do know is that in the hard and in the hurt and in the still so tired that has thrummed through me and through us in these last days since he got home God’s provision has also been there.

In the moments of tension when everyone was scraped thin and feelings were all at the surface…  God’s grace brought gentle words to turn away wrath, deep breaths, and encouragement from others at just the right time.

When the pain was sooo bad and I just felt like a whiney wuss there was time to rest and regroup.

Even this morning as I hobbled around in pain trying desperately to find my wallet there was the moment when it was found and the conviction that I needed to get myself in line (at least a little).

There was family to lean on and lightness to breathe in when things were so heavy it was palpable.

As it became clear that the pain wasn’t going anywhere and as I grappled with a new and common but unwanted diagnosis there was the realization that even if ‘this too shall pass’ didn’t work out the way I wanted that I *would* adapt and learn how to not let this part of the story consume me eventually.  There were friends to talk me to that point and to help me to be gentle with myself.

And today there was a physical therapist with a plan and a new exercise that brings relief and an expanse of living room floor to collapse on and a few moments to close my eyes and not be in so much pain.

These weeks after homecoming haven’t been picture perfect.  They have been hard and heavy and at times discouraging and disheartening.  We are still perfecting our dance of coming together again in the same space and on the same team.

But it turns out that the grace He gives really is sufficient.

There is manna provided where it is needed even though in the stretched thin moments of panic I don’t always readily trust that.

He is where I hang my hope.  And HE is enough.

 

Stories and Voices and Mirrors of Strength.

There is this weird competition that exists among military spouses.  I can’t speak to the military itself, but I can speak to it existing in the spouse world.  It’s the ‘who had it worse and therefore deserves more sympathy, respect, and honor for her martydom’ competition.

I have taken part in it without meaning to if only by devaluing my own story and my own struggle by holding it up in comparison to the stories of others that I have perceived as having it harder or worse.

The competition looks like this:

Spouse 1:  “My husband is on deployment right now.”

Spouse 2:  “Oh yeah?  For how long??”

Spout 1:  “It’ll be about 7 months before all is said and done.”

Spouse 2:  “Oh…  My husband was gone for 12 the last time around.”

Spouse 1:  *shrinks a little bit*  Oh?  That sounds really hard.  I guess 6 months really isn’t that bad.

Spouse 2 won that round and Spouse 1 slinks away feeling worse about herself because she has really been struggling with the 6 monther on her plate and now on top of those struggles she also has to bear the weight of being compared to the 12 monther spouse.  So now she misses her husband AND feels like a weanie. .

Forget the fact that the six monther spouse has a kid with special needs and she argued–without her husband by her side–tooth and nail in IEP meetings for the adaptive equipment he required.  Forget the fact that her car’s transmission was shot and she had to buy a new one….  Forget the fact that she needed knee surgery at the beginning of the deployment and she had to figure out how to get her kids and herself taken care until she was back up on her feet.

Similar scenarios can be played out for various things–Hardships during deployments, number of deployments, branch of service, the job of the service member.  We’re a competitive bunch.

As a result of this pecking order of martyrdom, I have shrunk back from the sound of my own voice and the power of my own story because I couldn’t bear the pain of being compared and told that I really hadn’t survived all that much.  That I was less or weaker because I was having a hard time bearing up under my own ‘easier’ circumstances.

I went to a retreat a week and a half ago that absolutely changed my life.  It was a retreat for military spouses.  I went into it feeling small and scared because in the deployment comparison game I just knew I was going to come up short and who wants to go to a retreat if you’re going to be told repeatedly that your story is too small to matter?

But I found something out that hit me square between the eyes:

We all have our stories.  We all need to know that we have a voice to tell those stories.

And this military spouse deal?  It’s only part of the story.  Sometimes it takes the forefront. But for each of us married to a service member–it’s not the WHOLE story.  Each of us military spouses–husbands and wives of service members–have a unique set of chapters to the story of our lives as milspouses and as women (or men).  Not all of those chapters are even all about the military.  Often, the military is merely a backdrop to a larger story of strength.

I think I fell into the trap that so many of us–military and civilian–do of thinking that I knew what it meant to be a military spouse.  It’s ALL about deployments and reintegration.  And war and wounds from war.

I minimized us.  I minimized a part of myself.

I got caught up in the competition and the comparison game and felt small…  What right did I have to believe that this lifestyle was hard if I haven’t experienced a deployment longer than seven months?  If my husband hasn’t been gone for the birth of a child?  If he hasn’t been in combat and hasn’t come back with any visible or invisible wounds of war?

What right did I have to feel tired?  To feel sad?  To hate the sound of my children crying at night for the missing of their Daddy?

Maybe we didn’t serve as well or as hard.  Maybe our story isn’t as valuable or important.

I listened to the stories on this retreat and the voices of these women and the commonality between us wasn’t the extremes of our stories or the degree to which we had become martyrs to the cause of American’s wars.  The commonality between us was our strength and our resilience.  We were not compared to one another.  We were valued.

One of my new friends is the wife of a wounded warrior.  Several support husbands who have PTSD.  Several of us have parented multiple children through multiple deployments.  A couple of women have children with special needs.  Some of us have tackled health challenges against the backdrop of being in a military family.  Some of us have done only one deployment.  Some of us have done several.  Some of us have husbands who have the front lines, scary, dangerous jobs.  Some of us have husbands who support the guys with those jobs.

We all serve.  We all struggle with the long lonely nights and the fears that jar us from our sleep.

We all have shown remarkable strength.  We’ve all survived something.  We all have more obstacles to face head on.

I think many of us felt like our stories were locked up.  We felt like our voice had been taken away–by the comparison game or by ‘roles’ that we felt we HAD to uphold and play into.  But, to a person, we all longed to be heard.  We longed to know that it was ok to say what we needed to say.  Without being judged or belittled or held up as other than or less.

We went to this retreat and we were heard and then a mirror was held up to each of us to show us the tremendous strength we’ve been exhibiting all along.

It was empowering.  It was beautiful.  It brought a freedom and a lightness to each of us that we hadn’t experienced in a long, long time.

If there was one thing I could change about the community of military spouses it would be this tendency to judge one another on some bogus merit badge system of martyrdom instead of jumping in to support one another right where we are.

We all have a story.  We all need a voice.  We are all steely strong and possess a resilience that is to be admired and marveled at.

This extends further than the milspouse community.  As women, we need one another.  All of us.  Military or civilian.  Mother or non-Mother.  We could be sisters….  If we’d just spend more time supporting one another and holding up the mirror of strength than we did comparing and making one another feel that we have to be lined up in a pecking order and triaged before we can earn respect and honor.

What’s your story?  Can I listen to your beautiful voice?   I won’t compare your story to mine or any one else’s.  I want to hear YOU.  Tell me your story and let me hold the mirror and show you what a remarkable, incredible woman you are.

Because you are.

A Lifestyle of Good-bye

It’s….  Five Minute Friday!!!

The day when we write without thinking too much or hitting the backspace bar too much or trying too hard.

My chest starts getting tight and I have a hard time breathing when his sea bag comes out of the closet and into the living room and the cataloging of ‘stuff that must go’ starts to happen.

We live a lifestyle of good-byes.  There are the big ones that come with the “D-days” of leaving for deployment.  That last kiss that is so soft and salty with tears.  The last feeling of his arms around me for months and months at a time.  He walks into the air terminal and I sit down behind the wheel and don’t turn around again.  I can’t bear to take another second of the against-my-nature forced action of driving the car out of the parking lot, watching the speed limit for base, driving out the gate.

There are the smaller times–detachments that last a couple weeks or a couple of months here and there interspersed.  I still cry over ‘the short ones.’  He is my husband and I want him beside me and all of those short ones add up to a whole lot of time when he’s not.

There are the good-byes we say to family who are so far away.  The good-byes we say to friends when the moving trucks pull up.

It is a lifestyle of good-byes.

But it is also a lifestyle of hellos.  Homecomings and a second and third and fourth helping of ‘first kisses.’  The deliciousness of how his arms feel around me after longing for them for so long and the comfortableness of him by my side all over again.  The joy of new friends.  The excitement of visits.

I’m grateful to be in a space that is closer to the hello than the good-bye.  We have a long way yet to go, but each day is another day closer to the sound of his boots crossing the thresh-hold of the doorway and the feeling  the place that feels most my home–in his arms.

In Which My Inner Rosie the Riveter Makes an Appearance

No two days of deployment are the same, that’s for sure.  Lately we’ve had the ‘holed up in our house with sickies and germs’ kinds of days, but along with those there have been a couple of “Rosie the Riveter–You can do it” days of empowerment and Navy Wife aplomb and also a day of back to back to back to back gremlins.

The Rosie the Riveter days are kind of fun.  Exhausting but fun.  They start with a project–the kind of project that I would never tackle myself if my husband was home.  The kind of a project that is full of tasks that fall squarely in ‘his domain.’

This time I was inspired by the need of a treadmill.

Endorphins are important to me.  I kind of wither away without regular does of them.  And lately instead of basking in the glow of them, I have been letting my backside grow and grow.  So I got it in my head that I NEEDED a treadmill.  Because really–I like to jog well enough.  But do you have any idea how hard it is to get out to pound the pavement when you have three kids in varying stages of wellness and weather that is as changeable as a slot machine when you are THE grown-up in charge all the time?  So my solution was…  a treadmill.

A good friend just happened to have a treadmill, a pretty decent one, just collecting dust in her garage.  She said her husband had told her to sell it.  And so…  I decided to buy it.

So I woke up Saturday morning and it was treadmill day, which might have inspired some excitement for me except that suddenly I realized what all that entailed.  And so…  I spent  a few hours freaking out and walking around in circles trying to decide where to start.  It’s what I do to inspire myself.  I look at the mess and get up to do something about it and get scared of the mess and run to check Facebook or turn on a c.d. to listen to or munch on something in the pantry to shield me from the scariness.

Eventually, I got around to moving the huge bookshelf that I have long taunted Husband about.  It was the first Amazing Building Project of our marriage.  And let’s just say, those book shelves…  hold A LOT of books.  After clearing them of books, and scooting, and dragging, and pushing, and scooting them some more, I got them moved.  Then I had to rearrange the rest of the room.  I moved the love seat and the recliner about half a dozen times before I finally found a configuration that looked ok and didn’t cover any vents.  And then…  there was the rest of the house that needed some attention and the cupcakes I promised my oldest I would make as a mini-birthday celebration…

One by one I knocked the tasks out.

Also…  I pulled the seats of the van out.  All of them.  And marveled at how incredibly heavy those boogers really are.

I had persuaded a friend of ours to help with some of the heavy lifting and he arrived.  The kids were shuttled into the care of my treadmill benefactor and we went to retrieve my new toy.

When I got there, and pulled my little van up to the garage I quickly discovered one unignorable fact:

The treadmill was REALLY, STINKING HEAVY.  I mean ridiculously stinking heavy.  We’re talking, you reach down and try to lift it and nothing happens heavy.  STINKING HEAVY!!

Our heavy lifter was daunted.  So he went and wrangled up a random neighbor who was caught unsuspecting in his very own driveway.  Said neighbor graciously came to my friend’s house and we loaded that puppy into the van.  It just fit.  We closed the door and drove on to my place.

At this point, it was obvious that even with my heavy lifter, that treadmill would be staying in the back of my van unless I got some more help.  So…  I determined it might be a good day to meet some neighbors.  I too took them unawares and batted my little Navy Wife-in- need eyes at them and drug them over to move the heaviest stinking treadmill I’ve seen in my life.

Two burly looking guys volunteered, and they came cheerfully, of course they hadn’t seen the treadmill yet.  The first attempt at going through our garage door was a no go.  We went for another strategy–the front door.  The only problem was the narrow hallway in my kitchen…  Somehow it was navigated and the treadmill found it’s home nestled along the back wall of my computer room, canted in a way that I could watch Netflix episodes of glee while putting miles behind me.  The burly looking new found friends of mine stayed cheerful throughout the endeavor, but I thought I caught the hint of a snarl when they finally got the massive piece of metal into the room and I insisted they turn it around.  What can I say?  I didn’t want to exercise while looking at a wall.  Couldn’t they understand that distraction is my friend??

The only thing left to do was put it together.  My benefactor friend and deployment battle buddy came with her previous knowledge and between the two of us there was a collaboration nearing genius levels.  The conversation started this way.  “Hmm…  This little screwy thing has a hole shaped like this…  so it must need an Allen Wrench.”

“Um….  what does an Allen Wrench look like again?”

Look–my husband is the tool guy, ok?!

But we found an Allen Wrench and set to work.  It only took us four tries, and the baby was together.  I only stripped one screw in the process too!

We made the cupcakes while our kids played and we griped about how much we hate deployment and regained some sanity in commiserating and connecting with a fellow adult.

The kids got wired on sugar and finally it was passed all the kids’ bedtimes so it was time to call the evening over.

The only thing left to do was to put the seats back into the van and I figured that wouldn’t be too much of a chore.

One snapped in right away.  Easy-peasy.  Almost too easy.  I should have taken a clue from that.

The next one…  Well I wrangled it and angled it and looked at the track to see where it was supposed to nestle and I pushed it and I banged on it.

And I pouted.  And screamed.

I might have even cried a little.

Because seriously–I got a behemoth treadmill moved into my computer room, assembled it, and made cupcakes to boot, but I was going to be stuck calling for help the next morning because I couldn’t get the stupid seats put back in the van?!

I cried and pouted some more.  And I had some words with God about how I NEEDED HELP RIGHT NOW, OK?! PLEASE!!!

And finally when I collapsed in desperation at just the right angle onto one of those car seats, it snapped right in.

I tried the collapsing in desperation trick on both of the two remaining seats and with just a little bit of trouble, got them snapped in.

And lo, I came in and pounded out the first mile on my new treadmill and called it a day.

Sometimes even a girl who doesn’t know her Allen Wrench from her Phillips Screwdriver can still get the job done.

And on those days, as tired as I am, and as happily and easily as I would relinquish the job over to my husband in a heartbeat if he could he be here to do it… at the end of the days when my inner Rosie the Riveter is channeled and I use tools and do heavy lifting and get dirty, I learn something beautiful about myself.

I learn that I am able, and capable.  And that even when I think I’m about to be outsmarted by a car seat, I find my way through.

As hard as the long days of deployments can be…  Those moments of empowerment remind me that there is more ‘can do’ in me, than even I realize.

As for those Gremlin days?  Well…  I’ll tell you about that one of these days too.

Where to Hang my Hope

I’m addicted to my pastor’s sermons.  Which, I think, is a much healthier addiction than my very real addiction to chocolate and baked goods of all varieties.  There are a collection of past sermons on ITunes and some times when I’m needing a lift in the evenings, I’ll look for one I haven’t listened to yet.  I’m telling you, I’m pretty sure you’d have to be dead to not feel some moving of the spirit within when listening to these messages.

Last week I listened to a sermon that has kind of been rattling around the rafters of my heart ever since.  In it the pastor challenged the places that we focus our hope.  He stated the obvious:  Any place other than Jesus that you put your hope in will disappoint and frustrate you.

As I said, this is obvious and it’s not a new thought to me, but it made me do a reality check.  Have I mentioned lately how hard deployments are?  Oh, several thousand times?  Sorry about that.  So anyway…  In the midst of a deployment–at the beginning or the middle or even nearing the end when you’re just tired and worn down and the hard has just been so hard it’s so easy to see that ‘end date’ as the thing in which to put your hope.  It is the light at the end of the tunnel, and my wonderful and amazing husband gets to be cast as the super hero that will swoop in and chase the bad guys away.  I glamorize the welcome home and imagine that when he walks through the door and our family is again complete that the angels and little birdies will sweetly sing and my inner and outer world will be at peace at last.

I’ve been through this a couple of times.  And that bit actually happens sometimes.  For a couple of days.

Of course if that Rockwellian Happy Ending is what I put my hope in, I set myself up for a rather dramatic thud a week and a half into his being home when I’m knee deep in smelly boat laundry, feeling cramped in bed, and trying to figure out how exactly to let him back in to the running of the household that I have been managing just fine by myself thankyouverymuch.

Because then, the girls get rowdy and wild and instead of it just being me pulling my hair out, it’s me AND my husband pulling our hair out.  The dance of reintegration gets tricky and we start snapping at each other as we try to remember how we fit together again and as we assess where we changed and where we grew and where we got harder as a result of the challenge.  The honeymoon stage ends and life’s challenges creep in and we all have to re-calibrate.

If I put my hope in this deployment ending…  If I put my hope in my husband coming home and ‘rescuing me’ from this hard, I WILL be disappointed.  As great as the man looks in tights and a cape (or rather…  in Dress Blues and a Dixie Cup cover), I have to remember this.

If I put my hope in Christ, I WON’T be disappointed.  And I don’t have to wait til we get to the ‘end date’ to sink into the joy and peace that placing my hope there can bring.

 Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.  And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.

–Romans:3-5

I’m not trying to over dramaticize things by calling the challenges of deployment ‘suffering.’ When I apply these thoughts to my life though, I categorize pretty much everything that I consider ‘challenging’ as stuff that can produce perseverance and therefore character and therefore hope.  Deployments call for perseverance and endurance.  There’s just no getting around that.

So I’m doing my best to hang my hat on my hope where I won’t get disappointed.  I’m trying to hang it some place that won’t cause erosion to my relationship to my husband.  He’s pretty incredible, but if I hang my hope on him, he WILL fail me and then I WILL feel crushed and disappointed and angry.

Some days I have to remind myself over and over and over again–Hope in Christ.  He is here NOW.  He is in this NOW.  The end of the deployment looks like the perfect happy ending, but putting my hope in the right place means that the happy ending is unfolding even as we speak.  It is happening in the development of perseverance and character.  It is happening in the comfort I find in the hard days and the joys that I can count along the way.  It is happening in the places where I find abundant life sprinkled in and amongst the challenging stuff.  It is happening in the redemptive work being done inside of me as God faithfully promises not to waste even these relatively minor struggles.

I can’t wait for this deployment to be over, but I’m hanging my hope where it belongs.