Rhoda Lea

Thoughts on the Journey of Life

Archive for the category “Afghanistan Deployment”

MAY 12, 2010 – DAY 120

http://jacksonville.com/news/metro/2010-05-11/story/generations-apart-photo-bonds-parallel-lives-military-wives

Back in late January of this year, just after Richard had deployed, I ran across a contest being held by our local paper.  It was entitled, “This I Love…” asking for pictures and a short little story about what we love.  I posted a pic of Richard sleeping on the beach in Myrtle Beach South Carolina.  I wrote a little blurb:  “This I love because it is a photo of my brave Sailor doing what he loves – sleeping on the sand at the beach.  This was taken on our most recent family vacation to Myrtle Beach.  We are praying for his safe return to us as he is now deployed to Afghanistan.”  It went something like that.

Also around that time a woman by the name of Pat posted a picture to the contest of her husband Bud which was taken while he was deployed to Vietnam during that conflict back in 1969.  Her story was about her life as a military wife and how proud she had been to be an Army wife.  She then proceeded to scan through the other postings and came across my picture of Richard.  It took her breath away and she picked up the phone and called the “Times-Union.”

About two weeks after I posted my picture of Richard I started getting these e-mails from a couple of individuals at the paper.  Apparently some woman who had been a military wife as well wanted to get in touch with me.  Well, I’ve met enough military wives to know that there are many of them I really don’t wish to get in touch with, and being the skeptic that I can often be, I ignored their requests.  Finally I got an e-mail from one gentleman at the paper who explained to me what was going on.

Apparently, this lady Pat had been an Army Wife for over 20 years and she had a picture of her husband Bud taken on the same beach in 1969 that bore an uncanny resemblance to my picture of Richard.  (Click Link above to see Bud’s picture.)  He asked if he could share my e-mail address with Pat.  Intrigued I said, “Sure.”  What’s the harm in an e-mail?  Especially considering all the spam I get on a regular basis.

That same day I got an e-mail from Pat, but being the skeptic, I didn’t answer.  On the third e-mail she imbedded the picture taken so many years ago of her husband Bud.  It was astounding.  I picked up the phone and gave her a call.  She was so lovely on the phone and I was completely charmed.  I suddenly regretted my cynical nature.

I’ll give this to Pat.  She was tenacious.  She had spent the better part of a month trying to get in touch with me.  It was now towards the end of February.  She tentatively invited the boys and I for Easter Dinner.  I said I would need to discuss it with the boys and I would get back to her.  After I got off the phone I told the boys the story and showed them the two pictures.  They immediately said, “Wow, that’s weird.  Yeah, let’s go.”  They wanted to meet these people who seemed so much like their parents.

Easter was an amazing day.  I had coached my boys well on the appropriate way to meet and greet new people, and appropriate new place behaviors.  They shook hands all around like gentlemen saying, “Hi, I’m Adam” or “I’m Sean, nice to meet you.“  They impressed Bud by playing nicely and quietly with his grandsons.  Then when we left, they shook hands saying, “Thank you, we had a great time.“  I was so proud, and we did have a great time.

The company and the food could not have been better.  Pat had also invited her daughter Heidi who has two boys as well, one just older and one just younger than my two.  The boys had a great time together and I really liked Heidi, as well as Pat and Bud.  There was no problem finding things to talk about and the conversation flowed effortlessly.  I was proud of myself as well.  I had made some new friends without the help of my gregarious husband.  It was a good day.

Since that time Pat and I have kept in touch.  We have exchanged e-mails and some phone calls.  I friended her daughter, Heidi, and her grandson, Robert, on FaceBook.  All of us our making plans to do something together once school lets out.  She has been a great sounding board for those deployment blues, especially since I broke my leg.

Recently Pat e-mailed me to find out if I would be interested in doing an interview with a reporter from the paper.  They were interested in doing a follow-up piece regarding how we met and the similarities in our lives as military wives.  I agreed immediately and we met a few days ago at my house with the reporter and a photographer.  We didn’t know if the article would be published or not, but the piece came out today and a link is posted above.

I have a hard copy of the article, one of the boys teachers sent it home with them, to put in a scrapbook at some point in time, for which I am glad.  Mostly though I am so thankful to have met Pat.  This 80 year old woman is one of the coolest, hippest people I have met in a long time.  Her life and her stories are an inspiration to me.  I am truly blessed to have her in my life.

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MAY 2, 2010 – DAY 110

I’ve been promising to tell the story about how I broke my leg.  Honestly, I was reluctant to put the whole story into cyberspace because of not wishing to upset Richard.  However, by the time he gets home the whole thing will be old news and I will be able to dance with him in the family room.  All will be forgiven.

Now, what would he have to forgive you may be thinking.  Here it is, it’s my son’s fault I broke my leg.  I had worked on Saturday April 10th and I had promised the boys their first beach trip of the season on Sunday, April 11th.  I went to bed on Saturday with a plan in mind.  We were going to get up on Sunday and clean the house then pack the cooler and head to Hannah Park.  However, I didn’t get up until about 8:30, a little later than I wanted.  I pulled on the clothes I had put on after work and headed to the kitchen for coffee, passing Sean with his bowl of cereal on the way.  Thank the Lord I put on actual clothing and not some kind of moo moo or sarong!  However, on the way to coffee I realized I needed to go the bathroom.  On the way to the bathroom is when it happened.

The house that we live in has been the sad recipient of a series of poorly planned and poorly executed remodels.  It was built in 1958 as a 1500 square foot, mid-century modern ranch with an attached carport, three bedrooms and one bathroom.  Sometime in the 1970’s the original owners added on a Florida room with a fireplace, enclosed the carport and added a bathroom.  The carport and the additional bathroom then became a master bedroom of sorts.

In the 1980’s the owners of my house got married, bought this house as I have just described it and proceeded over the years to “open it up.”  However, the master bedroom, the family room, and the additional bathroom are all about six inches lower than the original house.  This means I have a six inch step down from my sink area to my stove area.  My kitchen is cut in two by a six inch drop.  I understand wanting a bigger kitchen but talk about idiocy.  I can’t move from my stove to my sink without stepping up a six inch step.  Prior to breaking my leg, I can’t count the number of times we all have caught the toe of a sandal or a flip flop on that step and  went flying across the kitchen floor.  I always knew that if we managed to live in this house without me breaking my leg it would be a miracle.

On Sunday, April 11th, 2010 the thing I feared most came upon me.  I stepped off that step in the kitchen on my way to the bathroom and my left leg flew out from underneath me.  I landed with all my somewhat considerable weight on my 47 year old right leg.  I heard it snap.  It sounded like breaking chicken bones; like when you cut up a chicken.  As I lay there screaming for Sean, I thought to myself, “Now you’ve done it.  You broke your leg.”  Sean grabbed the house phone and dialed 911.

He was incredible.  He was calm and answered all the operators questions like a grown person.  He told them his mom had broken her leg in the kitchen and was laying on the kitchen floor.  He confirmed that I could not stand or walk.  He pulled up the leg of my sweatpants and said, “No, there’s no blood and no bone sticking out.”  The kid rocked!  Not a tear, not a quiver in his voice.  He was totally calm and completely mature!

Meanwhile Adam had heard me screaming and had rolled out of bed to see what had happened.  He got the cell phone and started calling my dear friend Kevin.  When he got Kevin’s voice mail he left a message.  Then handing me the cell phone, he ran in bare feet and boxers three houses down to our neighbor, Tim’s house.  All of this he did on his own initiative while his brother spoke to the 911 operator.  He was amazing!  Especially considering Adam is the kid that doesn’t wake up well and stutters!  I was so proud.

Once Sean was off the phone and confirmed with me that the ambulance was on it’s way, I rolled over onto my stomach and felt the area where my left foot had temporarily been.  The floor was wet.  “Sean, why is the floor wet?  The floor is wet.  Sean, why is it wet?”  At which point I heard Sean take a sharp intake of breath and choke out, “Mom, I spilled the milk and didn’t wipe it up.”  I said something very Sailor like at that point which I had to apologize for later, and the poor kid started crying.  He felt like poo poo!

By that time the ambulance had come along with Adam and Tim and a couple of police officers.  The cops show up to make sure that minor children are not left alone in the house.  But, Kevin had called to say he was on his way.  With my purse on my belly and my cell phone tucked into the collar of my sweatshirt I was rolled out to the ambulance yelling at my neighbor, “Tim, don’t let those people take my kids.  Wait for Kevin!”

Kevin met us at the emergency room taking pictures of me there with my cut up sweat pants and my big white cast.  He brought us all back home picking up my prescription for me at Walgreens and holding back my hair while I threw up out the door of his car in the Walgreens parking lot.  Like I said, he’s a good friend.

Since that time my young men have been amazing.  They have managed with very little help to get dinner on for all of us.  They have also kept the house reasonably clean, despite the maggots, and have taken care of me.  They have watched over me while I showered.  Got me some breakfast and made me a sack lunch each day.  Made coffee in the morning and tucked me at night.  They have Taken care of their dogs and kept their grades up.  I love the young men my little boys are becoming, and am so grateful to God for their presence in my life.  Despite the broken leg and the maggots, they have both more than made up for their little mistakes along the way.  No condemnation here, and their father has nothing to be angry about.  In fact, I know, he’s going to be very, very proud!

MAY 1, 2010 – DAY 109

MAY 1, 2010 – DAY 109

Today I had a minor melt-down.  The frustration with limited mobility set in and I just lost my mind.  I HATE being dependent upon others.  I hate living my life in the family room.  I hate sleeping on the couch.  I hate having to have my boys make me a sack lunch before they go to school.  And, I hate waiting until they get home to try and get anything done.  I really do.

The most embarrassing thing about it was I melted down all over my FaceBook page.  I’m sure I will  look back on it and laugh but  it’s impossible to undo after you hit “post”.  Even if you, delete the post right away there’s always one person who’s running around with the app on their phone and, ping, they’ve got it!

The FaceBook melt down wasn’t nearly as bad in my mind as the melt-down I had with my kids.  They have been so great through all of this:  deployed dad, broken mom.  They didn’t deserve to have me freaking out about something as inconsequential as the cleanliness of the house.  However, in my defense, I might have maintained some semblance of calm if it hadn’t been for the maggots I found next to the kitchen sink.

Anyone who is a mother can feel my frustration at this moment.  We don’t have a garbage disposal so all the little bits of food from doing dishes end up in the drain plugs.  The boys were just dumping those little bits on the edge of the sink.  You know, that little spot designed for a bar of soap?  Yeah, right there.  I had been on them for three days about cleaning the kitchen and had been very specific about what cleaning the kitchen meant.  Who knew I needed to specifically say, “Put the little food scraps in the garbage can when you clean the sinks out.“

I hobbled in on my crutches to see how dinner was going and, lo and behold, I find the little food pile.  While explaining to them why we don’t stack rotting food scraps next to the sink, I grab the spray bottle of bleach and a paper towel to remove the pile of food scraps.  That’s when I saw them.  The maggots!

I LOST MY LITTLE MIND!!!!!  And that is putting it mildly.  Clean dishes started flying back into hot soapy water.  The dish drainer got tossed in the sink and sprayed with bleach.  Bleach started splashing all over the counter tops.  Through all of this I’m screaming, SCREAMING, at my poor boys.  “WE DO NOT LIVE LIKE THIS.  HAVE YOU PEOPLE COMPLETELY LOST YOUR MINDS?  DON’T TALK TO ME!  WE ARE NOT NASTY DIRTY PEOPLE!  DON‘T LOOK AT ME IN THAT TONE OF VOICE!”  It was like something from a Bill Cosby monologue.

Meanwhile the whole time I am balancing on one foot and my crutches.  At one point, one of them got close to me and tried to say something.  I think I swung a crutch at him.  Thank the Good Lord, the kid was quick and all I succeeded in doing was losing my balance and almost falling on my face.  Which made me catch my breath long enough to storm (hobble) back into the family room, shouting over my shoulder, “No-one eats until that kitchen is spotless!”

And that’s when it happened; the FaceBook post.  “Lord Jesus, help me not to kill my children during this period of helplessness and dependency on others! I just want to get up and do what needs to be done myself and I can’t and I want to SCREAM!!!! AHHHHHHHHG! oK, I feel better now – much calmer – thanks for letting me get that out.”  All my lovely friends were quick to respond with words of encouragement and offers to help out.  I finally responded to them, “I’ve just had a serious moment of frustration over the cleanliness of my house.  I’m about to call Merry Maids.”  Perhaps I should and take the pressure off the boys, and help me be a kinder, gentler, more happy mom.

All I know for sure is that I don’t think I’ve ever missed Richard more or appreciated him as much as I do at this moment.  One thing is certain, if he were here, there would be no maggots next to my kitchen sink.  It’s for times like this that I have to remember, “That which does not kill us makes us stronger!”  Praying the Lord is gracious, in spite of myself, and that the boys and I all come through this time stronger and better.

APRIL 28, 2010 – DAY 106

When someone is home alone all day, unable to get around, they start finding things to do and their minds tend to wander.  Today as I tried to busy myself and wandered around in my own mind I came to a realization.   I realized I’m weird.  I mentioned in an earlier post that Alaska is the one place in the United States you can see a bumper sticker for the NRA and one for GREENPEACE on the same vehicle.  Even though I understood that seeming incongruity at the time I had to laugh at it’s irony.  Perhaps that’s why I felt so at home with Alaskans.  In looking  back through  my FaceBook profile page I realized that on April 22nd I not only posted a “Happy Earth Day” status message with a link for an organic gardening web-site, but also “Liked” a page entitled “A right to bear arms.”

It seems strange that these two ideas can exist peacefully in a single mind.  At least many people might think so.  However, I can assure you they do.  Like many things in my life my beliefs walk a tightrope and my heart and mind are always adjusting their balance.  I am a pacifist who served in the military.  I am a republican who often votes democrat.  I am an environmentalist who supports industry.  I am a feminist who believes that I should honor and obey my husband.  I am someone who believes in free trade but supports unionization.  I am a Christian who recognizes the need for gay rights.  And the list goes on and on.

I acknowledge that I’m weird, and many of my closest and dearest find me confusing and difficult – including my family and my lovely husband.  I’m sorry for that but in a broken world finding balance is often a hard thing.  Sad to say, I often feel as if the folks most lacking in balance are those from my own faith group.  The most angry, snide, and sarcastic responses I get to some of my postings on FaceBook come from my evangelical friends.  This frustrates me and makes me angry.  But, more than that, it saddens me.

Jesus was a very tolerant person.  Even with the one group He could get a bit combative with, the Pharisees, it took a lot to get Him that way.  However, what I often see in the Church today is intolerance.  Like it or not, fellow believers, we live in a fallen world and even the United States reflects that fallen nature of things.  As a citizen of this great country and as a Christian I need to recognize that until Jesus rules this world “with an iron rod” it is  marred by our fallen nature.  Not one of us has a corner on righteousness.

In looking back at April 22nd I realize I spent a good deal of time discussing significance of Earth Day with one of my fellow believers.  He believes that the whole day is part of “the leftest agenda.”  It was an interesting conversation and he sent me some interesting links with articles about this issue.  I see his point but don’t understand why it’s worthy of so much debate.  When people are unemployed, losing their homes, and going hungry, why do we as Christians spend so much time alienating the lost with political minutia?  I am with Joyce Meyer when she says, “We need a love revolution.”

Yes, I know I’m weird.  I’m too evangelical for my Catholic friends.  I am too Christian for my pagan friends.  I am too liberal for my Christian friends.  I am too conservative for my liberal friends.  And, I am too ecumenical for my evangelical friends.  However, I love the fact that my home has been a refuge and place of hospitality to all of these friends.  I’m just weird enough to believe that it’s not my politics that define me but my faith; a faith provided to me by love.  I hope that love is the guiding principle in my life.  I hope that I am just weird enough to believe, and act as if, the Great Commission is of more importance than politics – or taking advantage of Earth Day to promote a friends web-site.   I think I am glad I am weird.  I am especially glad that I found my husband, another weirdo, who is the one person on earth who gets me!  Thank God for that!

APRIL 22, 2010 – DAY 102

http://shine.yahoo.com/channel/sex/10-things-men-wish-women-knew-about-them-977369/

Seven days of leave when in the midst of a year apart is not enough.  I would love to say it’s not enough because of not having time for the fun, or the love, or the togetherness, but I can’t.  It is often not enough time to make everything perfect.  You want to your man to leave with images of perfection.  The perfect wife, loving and passionate.  The perfect kids, well adjusted and settled.  The perfect home, clean and organized.  The perfect budget, with room for flexibility.  Unfortunately, perfection and reality are often far apart.

Richard got leave at the end of his training and came home for seven days prior to shipping out to Afghanistan.  I had many images in my mind of how those seven days should play out.  None of those images played out.  I had to accept that perfection is an illusion and whatever issues that may have existed prior are just magnified by the pressure of time.   We bickered a great deal.  Argued about money, and he overspent, as usual.  He was pushy and demanding and I was bitchy and insensitive.  He didn’t respect our schedule or the need for one with me in a new job.  It annoyed him when I couldn’t hang out with him late in the evening and it annoyed me he wouldn’t get up and have coffee with me.  Everything was a big issue.

Now that’s not to say there wasn’t love or communication.  There was.  Lots of long hugs and kisses.  He made it a point to do a couple of cool things with the boys.  We ate out a couple of times and made a couple of really nice meals.  It’s just disappointing when things aren’t as fabulous as you want them to be.  When he left, I dealt with the guilt over feeling relieved that he was gone and we could get back on schedule and on budget.   We both left each other with what we would like the other to work on in the long days apart ahead and lots of love.  This is our salvation.  We never stop working on this thing we call “us” and never forget the depth of our love for each other.

We also recognize this is not our first rodeo.  We are experienced at riding this bull and taming this bronc.  It’s not our first mid-deployment break and each time it’s the same thing.  That desire to make everything that is not perfect suddenly perfect.  Unfortunately, as long as a marriage and a family are made up of  imperfect people, which they always are, many things are going to remain imperfect.  I will always struggle with my weight and Richard will always struggle with his ability to let go.  Sometimes our strengths bolster each other, but just as often our weaknesses feed on each other.  Recognizing this is half the battle to overcoming that struggle.  Keeping in mind that we know who we are, what we believe, and that we trust each other, keeps us grounded.  Our most difficult struggles come from without, not within, and we have learned how be the ribbon winners at the end of the ride.

FEBRUARY 12, 2010 – Day 42

Something happened on Face Book this morning that prompted me to revisit in my thoughts a conundrum I had resolved in my mind and heart years ago.  I remember when the first Gulf War started and how I was forced to finally reconcile my Christianity with my American pride.  At that time I lived in Fairbanks Alaska, home to Fort Wainwright and the “Arctic Warrior.”  It is a diverse community where you can see a pick-up truck driving down the road with an NRA bumper sticker next to one for Green Peace.  I vividly remember standing in the kitchen of my good friends debating the act of war in relationship to Jesus’ message of peace and love.  Some of the folks gathered there were soldiers and others were civilians.  Some were Christians and some were not.  Some were pacifists and others were “war-mongers”, for lack of a better word.  However, we all agreed on one thing.  If we were attacked, we would defend ourselves.  If someone we loved was threatened we would have no qualms about picking up a gun and blowing the head off of whomever was threatening them.  Even the pacifists had to agree.  I realized once again that our beliefs and our actions don’t always match.

There are many who believe true Christianity is marked by pacifism and in many ways they are right.  However, we live in a fallen world, a world that is broken, and what is ideal and what is real are very far apart.  We live in a country where the name of God is etched into our public buildings, printed on our money, invoked by our politicians, and brought up even by newscasters in times of crisis.  It’s hard to separate our national consciousness from a Judeo-Christian world view.  However, I think American Christians forget that Jesus was without politics.

Jesus lived in a world of great political unrest.  Yet he said, “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, and unto God what is God’s.”  He numbered among his apostles a tax collector, a zealot, a business man, a thief, and a bunch of working men.   All of these men were dissatisfied by the politics of the day and all were looking for something to give them hope for better tomorrows.  What they found was Jesus.  The Apostle Paul responded to cultural, political, racial, and religious divisions by saying, “When I’m with the Romans, I am a Roman, with the Greeks, I am a Greek and with the Jews, I am a Jew.  Be all things to all men.”   Jesus is not just the God of Israel, or the United States, He is God of the whole world.  He loves us all and died for us all, and admonished us to do the same for each other.

Make no mistake, war is about politics, and politics is often a very dirty business.  Do I believe that most wars have been motivated by money and greed?  Yes I do, but that is not the fault of the soldier.  Throughout history, most wars have been fought by those who had no choice.  They had to go – just like Richie had to go.  He had no choice.  Yes, he volunteered to be a sailor but he didn’t volunteer to go to Afghanistan.  However, he is doing what he signed up for.  As a Navy veteran, I understand that.  Ultimately, the bottom of his job description reads in bold, “YOUR JOB IS TO KILL PEOPLE!” This is very sad but very true.  I believe that politics and religion don’t mix.  I also believe that the highest expressions of our faith are often incompatible with our politics.   So what should be the Christians response to the political act of war?  More importantly, as a Christian and the wife of a Sailor headed to war zone what should be my response?  How do I serve both God and country?  How do I reconcile my belief system with my national pride?

My answer has always been, don’t do anything in the name of my country that violates my conscience before God.  Jesus was a peacemaker but He wasn’t a pacifist.  He drove the money changers out of the temple with a whip – not the actions of a pacifist.  Dietrich BonHoeffer a famous German theologian who died in a Nazi prison camp once stated, “All it takes for evil to flourish is for righteous men to do nothing.”  Bonhoeffer also said, “First they came for the communists, but I was not a Communist so I did not speak out.  Then they came for the Socialists and the Trade Unionists, but I was neither, so I did not speak out.  Then they came for the Jews, but I was not a Jew so I did not speak out.  And when they came for me, there was no one left to speak out for me.”   Throughout the Bible it is apparent that God recognized the reality of war in a world filled with fallen men.

On September 11th, 2001 some extreme men with an extreme viewpoint perpetrated an extreme act of violence against my country.  We all watched with disbelief and horror as the twin towers crumpled into the ground.  Thousands of innocent American lives were lost.  My country since that time has attempted with any means possible to apprehend those responsible for that loss.  The decisions and policies that have occurred since then have been ridden with controversy.  Some of the actions that have taken place have been successful.  Others were a supreme waste of time.  Some of these actions have increased our security and safety, while others have just infringed upon our freedoms.  Despite these things I do know for a fact that the American men and women serving in uniform overseas are doing so with the preservation of our way of life in mind.  They are serving out of obedience to their Chain of Command, which ends at the top with President Obama.  They are serving because of an oath of honor they took when they raised their right hands and said, “I, John Richard Berrios, do solemnly swear to protect my country against all enemies, foreign and domestic.”  They serve from a place of love – love of country, love of family and, for many, love of God.

In every war on foreign soil, the American service member has been characterized by the people who live there as a person of integrity, a person to admire.  G.I.’s come with chocolate bars and smiles for the children and are usually met by throngs of people waving, crying, shouting and laughing.  Like it or not, our military is viewed as the great liberator.  We bring things like schools, food, clothing, building supplies, churches, synagogues and mosques.  And, it is the men and women in uniform who do these things, not the politicians.  I have personally known Sailors who have served in Iraq who have said that their most memorable experience was collecting money, extra food, bottled water, blankets and building materials, out of their own pockets or their own supplies, and taking these things to a local school or orphanage.  They spend the day repairing walls and building relationships with the people there.  Every effort, often at the cost of their own lives, is made to preserve, protect, defend and enrich the lives of the citizens where they are the visitors.  In my mind, that is not an act of war but of peace.

Whatever we do as Christians in this fallen world, whether it is stand behind a pulpit, or fight in our wars we must do it with honor and integrity.  It must come from a heart that desires a better world, a world where all men have the freedom to know the Jesus we serve, and where all men can see Jesus in us.  As a Christian I have an apostolic mandate from Paul to “pray for those the Lord has appointed over me.”  It is the politicians and the military leaders who will have to answer to God if they make the wrong decisions, not the soldier who just follows orders.  Therefore, I pray daily that God will give our leaders wisdom because the decisions they have to make are hard ones.  That is this Christians response.

FEBRUARY 2, 2010 – Day 31 – One Month

I woke up this morning missing my man.  It doesn’t help that I’ve been sick for two weeks and that, despite the anti-biotics, my right ear is still blocked.  However, there are days that I really don’t miss him.  I think of him everyday and look forward to connecting with him via phone or Facebook in the evenings, but don’t really miss him.  I am busy, distracted, enjoying the quiet and the solitude.  Those are the days when I am getting together with a friend, or have something planned with the boys, or I am busy with some project.  The days I set aside to write are the days that I miss him the least.  Writing fills my mind and spirit in such a way that thoughts of him are pushed aside and I feel complete with purpose.  However, today I awoke with that jarring, aching, soul baring loneliness that one can only feel when absent from their lover.

Having been through this deployment thing a couple of times before I know that it’s time for this depth of loneliness.  It’s time for this sense of sadness.  It’s time for that feeling as if tears are right on the surface and even the littlest of things can push them out and over in some embarrassing, time-inappropriate burst of emotion.  In the past, I would wallow in it.  Make it huge in my mind.  Lose all objectivity and all effectiveness for weeks on end.  I sank into the depths of despair with a complete inability to claw myself out.  It was not a pretty thing at all.  I would pull out that dusty volume of Sylvia Plath and revel in the darkness.  I’m thinking that may not be the best response and that Sylvia needs to stay on the shelf this time.

Now is the time to re-arm, re-group and man up!  This is the day to re-focus and finish the annoying little tasks on my list that are distracting me from the things that keep me positive and sane.  Today I will complete the background check for that job on base and stop stressing that because of our credit I am going to be rejected again.  Today I will fill out the boys application for the magnet school program and stop worrying that their school is going to be too far away from my work.  Today I will pick up the stuff needed for the boys science fair project and try to remember how my Dad made that electrical experiment with the light bulb and the salt work.  Today I will get out of my two-day old pajamas, I will shower, do my hair, put on make-up and a cute outfit.  I will go to the award ceremony at the boys school and be there to comfort them if they don’t get any awards.  I will pay the bills and pray there’s enough left over for a visit to the chiropractor.  I know a good adjustment should clear my ear.  I will smile, I will listen to U2, I will open the blinds and I will dance in the family room.

I will be braver and stronger than my sadness because that is who I need to be for those I love the most, including myself.

January 18, 2010 – Day 16

Today we celebrate the life of Martin Luther King, Jr. and as our troops train to march out and fight yet another war on foreign soil I am reminded of how far we have come.  I got up this morning and saw that my lovely husband had beat me in posting his photos to his FaceBook page.  I’m not complaining, just surprised – he never does anything when I ask him to and this time he did – Yea!  But, as I viewed his pictures of his teammates and his squad, I saw them with MLK’s “I have a dream” speech ringing in my head.

My father, like most men of his generation, served where he could when WWII hit our shores with the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1942.  He served in the Merchant Marine, which during wartime is a component of the Navy.  He wore a Navy uniform, just like Richard and I have done. My Dad spent the duration of the war working on grain ships in the Great Lakes and guarding German prisoners of war.  Richard too will be guarding interned prisoners as part of his duties overseas.  So many similarities.  How we fight our wars hasn’t changed much in almost 60 years.

What has changed are the photos.  Pictures of my Dad with his shipmates were studies in black and white where all the faces smiling from the scene were Caucasian.   Now the pictures are in color and the array of skin tones on those faces grinning from the scene are just as colorful.  The only black faces on my Dad’s ships were in the galley, cooking and serving the “true warriors”, and if my husband  had served at that time his face would have been seen there.  He would not have been in battle greens, leading a group of young men through the desert.

My man is proud of himself and proud of his troops.  Understandably so.  And, I am so proud to be his wife and the mother of his children.  I am also proud of our nation, where our Commander and Chief is of African descent.  We are closer to the day when “this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”  We are closer to “that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.”   I do believe that we “live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”   And in my husband’s photos I see “little black boys… joining hands with little white boys…as brothers.”

Like Dr. King I too have a dream today.  I dream of the day each of these men return home, safe and sound, to their mother’s, their sister’s, their wives or girlfriends, their children.  I dream that day is filled with rejoicing and not with sorrow.  I dream they are whole, and not broken, not lost.  I dream that each of them is better, stronger, richer, emotionally and spiritually, for their days away from us.  I dream of happy tears on that day and pride in a job well done!  “I have a dream today!”

January 10, 2010 – DAY 7 – “Between Two Women”

“Between Two Women”

I saw a movie once with Farah Fawcett and Colleen Dewhurst entitled “Between Two Women.”  (1986)  The movie centers on the relationship between a mother-in-law, played by Dewhurst, and her daughter -in-law, played by Fawcett.   We all know Farah Fawcett but Colleen Dewhurst is one of those critically acclaimed actresses we all recognize but can’t remember the name of who made her bones on stage.  She is most likely best known by my generation as the actress who played Murphy Brown’s mother on Candice Bergen’s hit show, Murphy Brown, and for her role as Merilla in the Anne of Green Gables series.  Ms. Dewhurst seemed to make a career of playing strong, formidable women with complex and chaotic emotional underpinnings.  Her character,  Barbara Petherton, in this finely acted, made for television movie, is no exception.

The story starts sometime in the early 70’s with a young and lovely Farah Fawcett falling in love with and marrying Mrs. Petherton’s handsome and talented, but irresponsible and underachieving son.   The son has had an on-going strained, then estranged, then strained again relationship with his mother since his teens, and chooses a woman for his wife that he sees as her polar opposite.  Where his mother is cold and demanding, his wife is warm and adoring, and they build a world together filled with bright, precocious children and great passion for each other.  However, the dark mark on their blissful existence seems, at first glance, to be the domineering, negativity of Barbara Petherton.  From their first meeting, Fawcett’s character, Val seems crushed and wounded by the strong-willed Barbara.

The film portrays the ever increasing conflicts between these two women over the course of 14 years.  Barbara’s constant interference, harsh but well-meaning advise, left-handed comments and unrelenting criticism eventually breaks down the underpinnings of the marriage and the couple separate.  They ultimately come back together shortly before Barbara suffers a debilitating stroke and it is the long-suffering Val that ends up caring for her up until her death.

The movie’s story is told in flashbacks from Val’s perspective.  This is important to note because what seems to be immutable facts about the character of Barbara bear themselves out to be somewhat skewed by Val’s perceptions.  Barbara’s son is indeed spoiled, pampered and temperamental.  The family is maintained by Val’s hard work and Barbara’s benevolence as he flits from position to position, never ever fully comfortable in his own skin or fully confident in his own abilities.  Barbara blames herself but can never fully admit her own maternal short-comings to the warm and caring Val.  As each flashback unfolds while Val cares for her incapacitated mother-in-law a bond develops between the two women that is seen through the poignant eyes of Colleen Dewhurst.

When the movie ended with Barbara’s death and Val and her husband looking at each other across her death bed, I found myself asking, “So what happens now?”  Val no longer sees her mother-in-law as the constant protagonist in her life and now has no delusions about her husbands short comings.  She has entered Barbara’s world and sees things as they truly are, with no rose colored glasses.  I remember thinking that Val would never again be that warm-hearted, idealistic, emotionally fragile woman her husband married.  She couldn’t be, she knew now that her husband was the talented, unfocused person her mother-in-law always said he was.  Barbara’s constant criticism of Val and her continual interference in the marriage was really about trying to help and protect Val.  She had no delusions about her son and saw Val as too soft, too gentle and too independent for her own good.  Val now sees this as clearly as Barbara once did and knows she can never return to being the long-suffering adoring wife.

Those of you who know my mother-in-law, Margaret, may believe I see myself as Val and Margaret as Barbara.  However, this is not true.  Margaret is Val, 20 years after the movie’s ending.  She is the child of the 60’s, with all the idealism and independence of that generation, who married the talented, charming, good-looking, unreliable and under-achieving son of a strong woman.  She is the person who continued to care for her ailing mother-in-law even after separating from her husband.  She is the aging baby boomer whose idealism has been crushed and whose independence is slowly being stripped away by age and economic instability.

What kind of son would Val have raised?  How would she have chosen to live out the rest of her life?  She was the caretaker, the giver, the warm-hearted generous woman who loved freely without counting the cost, but truly getting to know her mother-in-law had changed that woman forever.  Val would have been Margaret, clinging to her hard fought for stability, afraid of being alone in her old age, wondering if her children will care for her as she did for her mother-in-law and her mother.  She, like Margaret, would have fretted over her children’s trials in life and questioned the strength and stability of their marriages.  She, like others of her generation, would be plagued with questions.  Where did the time go?  Did I do the right thing by my children?  Should I have stayed with my children’s father?  Would their lives be better if I had?  Or should I have left him sooner, and spared them the suffering we had because of his irresponsibility?  Should I have worked less, spent more time at home, cooked more meals, attended more school functions?  This is not what the last years of my life were supposed to look like!

What I would say to Val is, you did a good job.  You have raised creative, intelligent caring children who are stronger than you know, or even than they let you know.  Their love for you runs deep and true, for you HAVE always been there, the one stable element in their lives.  You are the one person they turn to when they fall down and the one person they ever get to cry with, because they never let anybody see them sweat.  Your life may not be as you expected, but it is rich in love and care and concern for you and your well-being.  As much as your children seem to resent you, they love you more, and that is the one thing in your life that is unchanging and exactly as it should be.  Your children have something that you didn’t and that’s a realistic view of themselves and the world.  They live under no delusions and they know that’s a good thing, because they learned it from you.  Despite this lack of idealism, they face the world boldly and with arms wide open, and that is also because of you.

I understand Margaret and, despite our many challenges along the way, there is a grudging respect between us.  We are both passionate about our children, we are both independent and opinionated – and a little bit crazy.  We both are fiercely protective of those we love and when something happens we don’t like with our loved ones we blame it on “those other people“ in their lives.  We are often out of focus and don’t see things as they are because of the fierce love we have for her son, my husband.  We both waste a lot of time pointing the finger at each other and screaming, “It’s her fault” when life throws this lovely man a curve-bal and becomes hard to manage.  And, often, in those times when we should be pulling closer together and supporting one another, we drive each other further away.  I, for one, will do everything in my power to not do that this deployment.  Margaret has earned and deserves the right to be kept close during this time Richard is away.  She needs to hug her grandchildren often and hear the news on a regular basis.  I have come to realize that the strength of Richard’s relationship with both of us rests in my ability to be understanding, tolerant and consistent.  It requires me biting my tongue and ignoring the criticism.  For his sake, as well as my own, I will be kind, I will be patient, I will be loving, I will be humble, I will be … better.

January 6, 2010 – Day 4

It’s been a whirlwind couple of days.  Richie arrived on time in Gulfport MS for his final checkout and gear issuance at about 4:30 in the evening.  However, his seabag didn’t arrive until about 10:00 pm.  So he sat at the airport and waited and waited and waited for it.  I finally spoke to him about 11:00 pm from the BEQ (Bachelor’s Enlisted Quarters) on base.  Since then we have been able to speak to each other each morning with my wake-up call to him and each evening after dinner.  We are taking advantage of his availability at this time because we know it won’t last. He is scheduled to leave Gulfport this weekend for his Army training in Texas.

He’s got one more thing to do for his check-out from Medical and that’s the consult with the Doctor.  It’s a quick and painless process and he’s already met her, so that helps.  She just goes over his numbers with him and his personal health assessment, gives him advise about a more healthful lifestyle if needed, and then signs his paperwork.  This is important because without this paperwork they can’t start his pay and if it doesn’t get started by tomorrow we won’t see any money until the 1st of February.  Not a good thing.  We both have been in prayer all week that his pay gets started without a hitch and that his pay starts coming in regularly come the 15th of this month.  We’re believing God for this little miracle.

You may be asking, “Why is this a little miracle?”  To explain, starting his active duty pay is dependent upon NOSC, Pensacola (Naval Operational Support Command) doing his loss correctly.  We don’t have a lot of confidence in them making this happen as they have been horrible about paying him his reserve drill pay in a timely manner.  He is attached to them for pay purposes, but does all his drills, medical, and administrative tasks out of Jacksonville.  He did his check-out for these orders he’s currently on here, and, just like his drill pay, everything has been forwarded to Pensacola via FAX and e-mail for them to do the system entries.  All of this is just another fine example of Navy planning, an oxymoron for sure.  We understand it, we know why things happen this way, we know why it doesn’t work, and we expect that the only people to suffer for it is the military member and his family.  It’s just part of the package of military life.  So you pray and ask God for little miracles along the way.

If Pensacola did his loss correctly, and if they ran their reports and verified his status had changed in the system, and if his status changed as it should, – then PSD (Personnel Support Detachment) in Gulfport will be able to post his gain today prior to the cut-off tomorrow.  Now if they post the gain and he still has what we call a “Ghost Record” from when he was on active duty 4 years ago, the gain will error out and they will only have until the end of the workday tomorrow to get it fixed to make the cut-off.  It’s highly unlikely that they will be able to clear that old record out of the system to enter the new gain in one short work day.  So you pray for the little miracles.

Having done this job myself for 10 years I know where everything can go wrong and its doubly stressful for me.  The secret to getting it right requires a watchful eye, running the necessary system reports, and time to fix what’s broken.  I really don’t trust anyone’s watchful eye, and I know that most people don’t even know how to run the reports, and there’s no time.  Knowing what I would do to get it done doesn’t help.  I know who to call, whose buttons to push to make it happen, and how to avoid things erroring out when you do the entries.  I don’t trust anyone else to know those things, because so many people I’ve encountered doing what I used to do don’t know how to do those things.  It’s maddening for me!

So, you take a deep breath, sigh, and say, “Woosaaaa!”  Then you utter a prayer, the Serenity prayer is a good one, and you trust what it says in Jeremiah 29:11, “For I know the plans that I have for you, says the Lord, plans for welfare and not for calamity, plans to give you a future and a hope.”

As for me, I have been working on my list, a little bit at a time.  Clean out closets and bag up Richie’s extra uniforms, almost done.  Make a mental note of things that he may want me to send to him and where they are stored – check!  Get ready for my yard sale to get rid of all the stuff I’m cleaning out of closets and storage – postponed for warmer weather.  Start working on my book again – check!  Apply for the open job on base that I got the inside scoop on – check!  Make medical appointments for the boys and I – waiting on our Tri-care cards.  Register for school – scheduled for tomorrow!  Get replacement drivers license – this afternoon.  Start working out – mmmmm, not so much – but I did locate my running shoes! Start the deployment blog – check!  Overall, I’m pretty pleased with my progress.

Today is the boys birthday and I am using some coupons I got for free bowling on base to take them bowling this afternoon.  They have an early release day today so it works out well.  I have a nice dinner planned for this evening and will bake a cake this morning.  Even though I plan on doing something a bit more grand for them later on I can’t let the day go unnoticed, especially while their Dad is away.  That would be like adding insult to injury.  So for those of you who know my little men, give us a call this evening to wish them a Happy Birthday.  They act like it doesn’t matter, but I know they love those phone calls that are just for them. (904-236-5156)

Happy Three Kings day, my friends, let’s all enter this Mardi Gras season with joyful and thankful hearts for God’s gifts to us of love, grace, and life!

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