Monday, October 31, 2011

It's tough to be the little guy...

I have always believed the little guy needs someone to help them fight. I am famous for playing Devil's Advocate. I like to flip things around and make people think. It is so hard for us to come out of our tunnels and think about others sometimes. We so often get caught up in our daily lives and totally forget about others.

I joined organizations in high school just so I could give back. I joined Girl Scouts as part of a family tradition. It was Girl Scouts that taught me to leave the world better than I found it. I was in Beta Club, National Honor Society and Key Club, plus a few more, just so I could give back to the community. Then in college I joined Ambassadors so I could travel around and share our school with others. Then I joined Kappa Delta so I could help give back to Girl Scouts and help kids.

In the Army, we are in our little bubble. We automatically take care of each other when something goes wrong. I can't tell you how many times one of my friends' husbands fixed our fence or helped me do something to the house because Chaz was deployed. But this wounded warrior stuff is so different.

First you have to fight to get every bit of information you can on your loved one. Then you have to fight to find out what organizations are out there to help. You can never let your guard down. You never know when your soldier will slip through the cracks and then either his medical care or part of the paperwork doesn't go through like it was supposed to. You also can't let people in too closely, because some of them are out for themselves and they want to use your family. You learn very quickly who cares about paying it forward and who's out for themselves.

This road is so incredibly hard. I told Chaz I understand why the wives leave. I am not saying that it's right and I am not going anywhere. But in all honesty we are asked to do way too much. We are asked to give up everything we have known and do things we have no knowledge of doing. Chaz was discharged to my care and technically I joined the Army. I am responsible for his meds, I am responsible for his Army/VA paperwork. I am responsible for getting him to his appointments. In addition I have to make sure our bills our paid, our house in TN is taken care of, and making sure our girls stay happy and healthy.

For over 12 years, I handled all the household things (bills, repairs, etc) while Chaz focused on his job. I didn't want him to worry about house stuff. I wanted him mission focused. I wanted him to always be on his A game so his was ready to lead his men in to war. I wanted him in the best mental shape possible so he would make it back home to us. But now I have to help with the world I never dove into before.

Someone asked me once "How was your marriage before his injury?" Our marriage has always been great. Chaz and I communicate very well. Before we got married, we sat down and planned out our goals. We have 2, 5, 10, 20 and 40 year goals. Of course they been readjusted over the course of our marriage and those 2 and 5 year goals have pretty much been tossed in the trash for right now. We have just a few  goals right now, heal our family, build a house that's suitable for Chaz's needs and move on with our happily ever after.

Someone else asked me the other day, "How do you do all of this?" My answer is I seriously don't know. I wake up everyday and I look at my hubby and kids and just go. I know this is God's plan. I don't know why we have to endure this, but one day we'll look back and understand it. For right now we have to keep moving forward. Everyday I wake up and walk in faith knowing this is where I am meant to be. I still have my happily ever after it's just been altered a little.

Someone else asked me, "Why are you fighting so much? Why don't you just let the Army handle it?" Well if I waited on the Army to do things, Deryn wouldn't be here (we had to wait for the mid-wife to come to work so I could deliver her). The Army has a few things to deal with everyday. You have to remind them that you exist or they will forget! Do they do it on purpose? No I don't think so. I think the Army is ran by humans and we humans tend to need reminders.

So why do I fight? I am fighting for the wife who was married for less than 2 years, has a new baby and is so overwhelmed and confused, but loves her hubby so much she is willing to fight to make it work.

I fight for the mom who has 5 kids. She raised them all alone because their Dad left. Her son was injured and she gave her youngest 3 kids to her sister so she can advocate for her injured son. Her oldest child is serving in the Navy. She was just fired from her job because she has been away too long.

I fight for the girlfriend who just graduated college and got her first job. She left that job to come heal a boyfriend who just discovered an IED. They are deeply in love. She knows that first dream job will now have to wait.

I fight for the mom whose son was shattered by an IED but they saved him. He is a triple amputee. His wife left during week 2 because she couldn't take it. The son has been an inpatient for over a year.

I fight for the soldier whose wife couldn't deal with his injuries nor the Army and just left with their 3 kids. He has no idea where they are because she, nor her family won't return his calls.

Now you have 5 more glimpses into why I fight. Wouldn't you?! Don't you want to make sure these heroes are taken care of? Wouldn't you scream to be heard so these others could also receive? Wouldn't you demand to make it better? We have a great system in place, we just need to iron out a few wrinkles.

Chaz and I are so lucky. First, Chaz's injuries could have been so much worse. Second, he and I know the military system really well. Third, we have zero tolerance for BS. Fourth, we love to pay it forward to others. Combine all these together and the drive to succeed and we can really be a blessing for others. I know that most people wouldn't do what we're doing. But we're not most people. We want to serve as examples for our daughters. We want them to also want to make the world a better place. The best way for them to learn is for us to show them.

Want to help us help others? Tell someone today about some of the stories I mentioned. Tell someone that our wounded don't give up. Tell someone how amazing they are. If you can send a card or a care package and send it to them. If you can, donate to Fisher House, Hero Miles, Operation Troop Aid, Operation Second Chance, The Yellow Ribbon Fund, or Our Military Kids. We have worked with these awesome organizations and we stand behind them and what they do for our troops and their families! Most importantly pray for us and support us. You don't have to support the wars, but please support our troops. They are just doing their jobs. Trust me they don't want to be overseas anymore that we want them over there. But they have bills to pay and want to take care of their families. So please, please, please support the little guy. It's really hard to walk in these shoes for so long!!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Parking Wars

Most of you are aware of our awesome van that was given to us by Help Our Military Heroes. We were van award #10 for them for the year. They equipped this awesome van so Chaz could get in and out of it without any problems and then they equipped it so he could drive it. The vans are just awesome!! We were awarded ours in July.

We had no problems finding parking at WRAMC nor here at our apartment building. Please remember for Chaz to be able to drive it, we have to make sure there's a parking spot that allows enough clearance for him to let the ramp out and so he can get off that ramp. September we get to Bethesda. I had already been warned about the parking and how there are very few spots. My brain says well surely they have plenty of handicap spots. So I asked, "Sure we have the spots, we even have Van Accessible ones." We go to find out yes they have these spots. But the "van accessible" ones did not have enough room marked off for us to let the ramp out. Well, let me correct that, I could let the ramp out, but the cars that might be parked next to us, might not appreciate their doors being banged in and scratched up.

I think you might all now know how my little brain works. So I started driving around looking for a solution, before I complained. Before I found my solution, I met several soldiers who were getting tickets and not very nice notes left on their cars. They were taking up 2 spaces to make sure they had a place to park. One of them told me, "Look my wife is going to school and our apartment complex doesn't have a shuttle. I have to get here. They haven't made a space for us, so I am going to make my own." He also told me that every ticket thus far had been torn up when he took them in.

Of course what does this pisses me off even more and fuels the fire. I start asking questions and I find the right person to help me. Remember our awesome Squad Leader, yes he's the one who sent me in the right direction. I got to sit down with this very nice lady who had no idea what was going on. I explained to her these guys just got their freedom to drive back, but since they don't have a place to park they are having to park illegally or just get dropped off. She said this was her new priority #1.

She wasn't lying within a week of sitting down with her. I found out the Navy agreed to give us 6 spots. There are 62 handicap spots in that garage. These 6 specifically state "Van with side ramp only." The signs went up as soon as they came in. Wahoo, another small victory.

Days pass and my small victory got trumped. I pulled into the garage and all 6 of our spots were filled with cars. Yes they had handicap tags, stickers, or placards. But they obviously didn't have side ramps. I went straight over to security and asked what the crap?! I was very nice to them because I knew it was not their fault. I was then informed they tried to enforce those spots and got in trouble for it. They were putting out orange cones and a Navy officer told them they couldn't do that and that he didn't care about the vans. Those spots were for handicap and those vans didn't need a special spot. The security guards have seen us many, many times. They are so nice. He also told me he called the Navy's MPs and asked them to help and they refused. They said almost the identical thing that the Navy officer said. The security guards told me they have no authority and really wanted to help us. I patted them on the back and told them thanks for being honest and for trying to help us.

Let me tell you I do not put days of effort into something to let a couple of idiots ruin it. I am so sorry you still have your legs and you are so ignorant that you don't take the time to see this is needed. Don't think that for one minute I will not be in your face letting you know how stupid you are. I will bring my mack truck of common decency and I will slam you with it.

So I walked around the garage and took pictures. Then I went and visited my friends who got the spots for us. They were as unhappy as I was. The nice lady who got the spots said exactly what I thought. "We didn't work this hard for nothing." She asked me what do you think I should suggest. I told her the guards had used orange cones to block the spots and then would let us wave, they'd move them and we could park. She said that's perfect why aren't they doing that now. Then I tell her they told them to stop because it was not necessary. You could see her blood pressure going up. She then said you go have a great day. I need to make a not nice phone call and you don't need to be witness to it.

The next day I pull into the garage and I saw a orange cone in our spots. I jumped out moved it and parked. By the time I got out of the car, one of the security guards was standing there. He said, "Ma'am what is your name?" I tell him. He says, "I don't know who you know, but thank you so much for helping us help these guys. You are great." He had this huge smile on his face. He then told me the first thing they did in the morning was mark out spots with orange cones. He then told me how much it meant to them to help our families. He said "You're the second family of the day. This is just great." He then told me the guy that works on the elevators took one of our spots before they got to work. He told me he would be having a conversation with him when he returned.

That's what it's all about folks. It's about working together for the same cause. It's about making sure these guys retain their freedoms. You have no idea what driving does for their morale. Let me assure you, I will not let anyone take that away from Chaz, much less any other wounded hero. They have given so much already. The least we can do is make sure they have a place to park so we can start their day off right. I will take pictures every day if I have too. I will tattle everyday if I have too. I will storm into an office and raise hell if I have too. I am pretty sure this war is not over. But the great news is we have great people on our team to help our wounded warriors. With these great people on board we will succeed!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Chaz's MRI

First let me explain that I have had too many scares on this road that I now do not play around with anyone's health. I am not a hypochondriac, but we haven't come this far down this road by being careless. We have all of Chaz's medical needs at our fingers tips, we only need to ask.

Chaz has been in the Infantry for over 13 years. Over the course of those years, he has treated his body like crap and I mean crap! All Infantry soldiers do. They all have back, shoulder, hip, knee or some type of issue within years of serving. These guys literally toss 50 lb (or larger) ruck sacks on their backs. Those rucks are so insanely heavy and these guys carry them everywhere. Before Chaz deployed we talked about his back and how he needed to have it looked out. He threw it out one day opening one of our windows. Then of course you have to factor in the traumatic injury he is recovering from. When he stepped on the IED he was wearing that crazy heavy ruck sack and was tossed up in the air like a rag doll. So you can safely say his back has been a little abused.

Fast forward to a few weeks ago. Chaz stopped taking all of the narcotics that he had been on since January 22. It was at this time he realized his back was really bothering him. You also have to realize when he walks in his prosthetic legs he uses his back muscles to help him move those heavy things. You also have to remember he had that crazy staph infection in his back that came out of no where back in June. Also when he was in the hospital he was having acupuncture done too. We've stopped all of that since he is an outpatient. 

So what do we do now? First we start with the MRI. We wait and see what it says and go from there. Right now his pain is control by Tylenol. But this lady doesn't play around with any of this. Once we get those results back, then we decide what's next.

We are at one of the best hospitals in the country (not sure if that's documented, but it's the best hospital I've ever been a part of). These amazing people are here to help. Chaz's back is hurting lets find out why. The mommy gut says it will all be ok. I haven't been wrong yet, so why would it start now.

Prayers are always appreciated! Of course I will update as soon as I know more!! Happy Monday!!!

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Communication is such a beautiful thing....

My day yesterday was very interesting. I learned the advantages and disadvantages on communication all with hours of each other. I woke up this morning thinking gees, well that was an interesting day.

Chaz got a call first thing yesterday morning. His First Sargent wanted to see me. I thought awesome what did I do now? I haven't raised any type of hell within the last week or even longer, hmm...

I got Chaz dropped off for his appointments and I headed toward 1SGT's office. He had a big smile on his face and I thought uh-oh. I sat down and asked what did my big mouth get me in trouble with now? He told me I was there because of my big mouth, but because he needs my big mouth's help. I was shocked. I thought for sure I was in trouble. He then informed me he had an idea and he said you are the right person for it. So I listened to his plan.

Let me back up and explain. The Warrior Transition Brigade (WTB) has been going through a lot of changes. To me they are all good ones. This new 1SGT is part of all of that. He is like Chaz and I we are see a problem and try to make it better.

The 1SGT sees a lot a of problems with the NMA being lost in the Army world and now we've combined them into the Navy world too. Many of the people are so incredibly lost. We have parents who have no understanding of the military system and then they drop everything to help their kids heal. It's just too much to handle. So we talked about what I did to handle everything. He asked me if I thought I could break it all down for others and I said yes. So now that's what I will be doing. I will be the person the NMAs come to for help in navigating the system. We have a lot of work to do, but we can do it. So my first adventure of the day was a lesson in communication success.

We then decided to take my mom to Arlington to see the Cemetery and the changing of the guard. Turns out I went the wrong way on a one way road. I've been driving for 16 years. I have a college education so I can read signs. I am telling you right now there was not a one way sign there on that road. Well I got pulled over by a cop. And I can safely say he was the rudest cop I have ever met in my life. I love cops. My dad was a cop, my best friend was a cop. I have a very positive opinion of cops. I have only had positive experiences with our law enforcement personal. This guy was belittling and condescending and he even yelled at me. He told me I was endangering the lives of hundreds of people by going the wrong way. FYI it was a two lane road and not one single person was walking on it. Then I explained (when he actually let me talk) that I had parked on the right side of the amphitheater so Chaz (where it was marked for the handicapped) could have the access to the area. Rather than busting a u-turn right there I simply followed out the right side of the road. He then asked if I saw the signs "the same signs that would have been on my driving exam." I said no I did not see them because I was talking to my family. He looked at Chaz and you could see the oh he's wounded thing smacked him in the face and he disappeared to his car.

My gut wanted me to get out and punch him in the face. I wanted him to give me a ticket so I could report his rude ass. I have never ever wanted a ticket so bad in my life. But no he goes back and runs my info and then comes back and like a total jerk again and reminds me again what I did wrong. He then says don't forget it's 20 in the cemetery here. I smiled and told him to have a nice day, just to make him mad.

We left and went to join our wounded friends and family and the Aleethia Foundation for another great dinner. There we met some new families, but dined with the ones we've known for a long time. We got to go to Dave and Buster's. We had a blast!

So you can say I had another roller coaster day. Started off kind of scary to find out it was great, then a dip for a dip (the cop) only to end on a great high! Thank goodness for all of the positive that comes to trump the bad!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Just Loving Life!

My friend Demetria was the one who wanted me to start this blog. She'll tell you I was very hesitant to do it. I thought why, what's the point?! I have learned my friend is wise beyond her years. She knew what I didn't. She knew I could reach more people and help them through my writing (and my big mouth). We have known each other since we were 4 years old. Who would have ever thought those little girls would be in their 30s going through this adventure together? I am so blessed that our parents were friends and we were able to become and stay friends despite the geographical adversities we have.

At least once a week someone sends me an email saying thank you for sharing your story. Or thank you for showing us how strong you can be even in the darkest of days. My personal favorites always come from the wives, girlfriends and mothers who are new to this journey and find my blog. Their emails usually start with something like after I got that phone call, I just didn't know what to do and then someone sent me your blog. It truly touches my heart to know I have helped someone. Knowing that I am helping them pushes me to do better and to keep going.

You cannot imagine how hard it is to get that phone call and be told to wait. When someone you love gets hurt you want to be with them ASAP. But when they are serving overseas for our military that is not possible. So you sit and you wait and wait. You jump every time the phone rings praying it's more and hopefully better news. Then you cry from overwhelming joy when you hear your soldier's voice on the phone. You find yourself carrying the phone around everywhere you go praying it will ring. When they call and say ok it's time your soldier is going to this hospital, let's get you to them, you don't know what to do. You've waited so long and now it's finally here. Minutes seem like hours, hours seem like days and days seem like years. I could hardly sleep when I got my call. I wanted to get on that plane as soon as possible and the Army made that happen.

I am so thankful I only had to wait a few days to get to Chaz. His body handled the trauma so well they got him stateside in only 3 days and I arrived on day 4. But some families have to wait many days longer. And some don't get to talk to their soldier before they come to the states. I can only imagine how agonizing that is. I know how horrible it was for me and I only had to wait just over 24 hours to hear Chaz's voice. I have heard so many stories from others that just rip through my heart. The good news is all of our stories all end in happily ever after. However, we just have to endure one hell of a roller coaster ride to get to that ever after.

I made the choice that my happily ever after restarted January 22 with that first phone call. Chaz was alive and I didn't care what he was missing or what he looked like. He was coming home to me and our girls and that was all that mattered. I called my best friend had a pity party and then decided the pity party was over and it was time to move forward. I stood up shook it off and figured out what I had to do for our girls so I could go be with Chaz.

Our lives have been turned upside down and changed forever, but you know what. I wouldn't have it any other way. I made my peace with the changes to Chaz's physical appearance within minutes of seeing him. At that moment he and I moved forward together. Later when it was time, we added our girls in and our lives were even more complete. We still have a long road in front of us. It will be filled with joy and fun because that's the way we want it. I will not have it any other way. Nothing or no one can steal our joy!

I am so thankful God blessed me with a great family and a great life and a great brain. I have been blessed by some great DNA. My granddaddy told me to never be afraid to speak up and ask questions and I never will be afraid. If I see a way to make it better, I will voice that opinion. If I find someone who could be blessed by me answering a few questions, I will answer any and every question to the best of my ability. I received a great college education and will use that to write and speak on the behalf of our families. I will never sit and complain. I will stand up and demand better. Our troops deserve it. We have given a few interviews and we will give more. To me those interviews mean someone will learn more about our troops. Possibly they will pray for them and perhaps even come up with a great idea to help them. You never know where and when that spark will come from. It is because of that I will not stop!

This blog has become such a blessing. It is a blessing to me because I can share (and sometimes vent about) our journey with others. It is a blessing to others because they can see what we've done to make it all work. It may not work for everyone but at least it's a start for them. It is my hope that our journey is a blessing to more people than we will ever know.

Demetria thank you for being my friend and encouraging me through all of this. You are so amazing and we are so blessed to have you in our lives!! (Muah!)

Monday, October 17, 2011

I Believe the Children Are Our Future....

Funny thing is you were just thinking about that Whitney Houston song, huh?! Well I immediately think about Eddie Murphy singing that song in Coming to America with his band Sexual Chocolate. That movie is freaking hilarious. My big brother and I have seen it so many times we quote it back and forth to each other all the time. But it's true, the children are our future. Yet Chaz and I are currently trapped in a world that doesn't know what to do with them.

The typical soldier is around 20 years old. He might be married and if so it's been for a very short time and they might have an infant. The soldier and wife usually only have a high school education. So the military has an easy fix with them, put the infant in day care and we'll tell you what to do. But Chaz and I are 32, I have a college degree and only need a few classes to have a Master's. He has served in the Army for 13 years, he tells people what to do as their squad leader. Our girls are school aged and are very aware of the world around them. We stand out like a big sore thumb. Oh and let's not forget I have a really big mouth. The nice thing is I never complain, but I do ask questions. I do not go and complain about a problem without offering at least one solution. I have been told more than once that they appreciate that I come bearing solutions and compromises and that I don't just attack them. I have very good communication skills and I am not afraid to use them.

Our girls absolutely amaze me. They get it from their Daddy. They all three just keep surprising me. Deryn, our oldest, the other night accidentally broke the leg off of her Barbie doll the other night. Unfortunately we couldn't fix it. She grabs it and says,"Cool now I have an amputee Barbie." This statement got my brain turning. What if Mattel made a line of Military Service oriented dolls? We'd need Barbies and Kens from all branches and then we'd need some Wounded Warriors. The dolls could come with a wheelchair, prosthetics and various things along that line. We could educate and inspire these kids.

Kids learn best through play. How many architects were inspired by their lego or erector sets? How many doctors were inspired by an anatomy doll? How many kids could make prosthetics even better because they had a doll to inspire them? Amputations don't just happen in wars. There are accidents of all sorts of levels all over our world. Soul Surfer and Dolphin Tale both showed us how these accidents occur all over our country. Our girls won't be the last to experience this tragedy. So how can we make it better for the those who follow behind us? 

I think a line of Military Service oriented dolls would help instill pride in military kids. Military kids love their Daddy dolls. How much would they love to play with them even more? I think a line of wounded barbies would help teach acceptance and how to overcome adversity. Our soldiers are amazing and more people need to know about them. After all only 1% of our country serves in our military. Our country is very proud of our military, let me assure you of that. I have witnessed this pride first hand. I think these dolls would foster even more pride.

And yes I already emailed Mattel. I haven't heard anything yet and maybe I never will, but I have to try. I have seen our girls playing with their barbie and the have adjusted to their reality. But what about that little child who isn't able to adjust as well as ours? What about that family who doesn't know how to talk to their kids about their loved ones' physical changes? These dolls could open up the lines of communication and help heal that family. You may think it's just a doll. But to a child it's a new world of possibilities. Role playing allows kids to communicate their thoughts and ideas and can give us a glimpse into what they are thinking and feeling. If we can see into that world we can help them heal and make their little lives a little better. These dolls can help the parents, doctors, nurses, psychologists, therapists and anyone else involved in the kids lives help them understand what is going on with their loved one who was injured.

Children are our future. We can help them heal on this journey or we can just put them in day care and let the parents deal with it later. You have two distinct paths here. You can foster healing or foster resentment. You can foster healing by engaging your kids in communication and helping them heal and understand what's going on. Or you can just ignore the problem and stick them in day care and just make them accept it. I have seen first hand ignoring the problem just fosters resentment. There's enough anger floating around when going through all of this. Let's find a way to talk about it and have a little fun while we're healing. Let's give these kids the futures they deserve. Let's have a little fun and talk them through this road to our new normal. They are a very important part of the healing. If the kids are having fun they will be happy. Their happiness will make their parents happy and that will help the healing process. Kids want to be involved in healing their parents. They get so much joy from being a part of their parents healing. These dolls could help them understand more and even inspire them to create new ways to help their parents. These dolls are a win-win-win situation. These dolls can help brighten the futures for these kids. If we can brighten their lives there is no telling where they might lead us one day!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Chaz's First Majority Legs Day!!!

It's not a news flash that my hubby likes to keep me on my toes. Just when I've got the drill down he likes to throw in a curve ball. I am not saying this in a tone of contempt, actually it's just the opposite. I love that he throws in these curve balls. They are usually freaking awesome ones that remind me again how he defines Rock Star in my mind!

Earlier in the week we decided we would venture out to Butler's Orchard in Germantown, MD and let the girls run amok. Yesterday we were heading towards the Orchard when we realized Chaz forgot his legs. (I love the funny little things we get to say now. Like "Oops, you forgot your legs!") So I had to make a small u-turn and go grab them. Thank goodness I did, because the Orchard was not wheelchair friendly. Chaz said, "Well duh, it's an Orchard, it's for leg walkers. I guess I'm walking today." We parked and he put his legs on and got to stepping.

Last night I realized yesterday was the first day that Chaz was out of his wheelchair for the majority of the day. Normally he only gets out of it for little spurts at a time. He jumped into the passenger seat of the van at 10 something and little did I know he wouldn't be back in his wheelchair for hours. We parked at the Orchard just before 11am and he did not get back into his chair until we were back in our apartment around 7:30ish. Can you say woot-woot?! Or perhaps Hooah is more appropriate here!

He did not walk around that whole time. At the Orchard, he would walk to a bench and sit down and watch the kids. (But so would I.) Yesterday was about letting the girls go have a ton of fun running around and playing with other kids. So we would walk them to the next area and sit and let them go. Except at the Corn Maze, Chaz went through the Corn Maze with us. I was a nervous wreck. There were so many little rocks and holes and I was scared he'd find one, but nope not at all. He walked around like it was nothing. He needed both canes because of the terrain. But he did it! You can see in the picture he was making fun of my worrying by taking a pic of him on one leg.

We left the Orchard to go pick up the girls' friend from her hockey game and bring her to our place for a sleepover. I offered to get his chair. Chaz says, "Nope I'm walking in." I said ok. I will never ever hold Chaz back. I will run ahead and make sure the fewest amount of obstacles are in his way. But I have never and will never put limits on him. If anything I push him forward. So he walked in to the arena and went to sit in the stands and watch the game and then he walked out to the car afterwards. Then when we got to our apartment he informed me that he was walking to our apartment and that I could use his wheelchair to wheel up my purchases from the Orchard's market. So he took off and I followed. Then around 7:30ish he sat down in his chair and took his legs off. He said he even surprised himself. He said, "Well that wasn't so bad."

The coolest part of yesterday was all the people who came up and offered to help us and/or thank Chaz for his service. We had several people come up to us. The sweetest thing was the veterans who pulled me to the side and said, "Really is there something I could do for you guys." I told them all just pray for us and watch us heal and I gave them all the Team Allen website. I love that we have so many amazing Americans out there. They all wanted to make sure we had everything we needed and that we were being taken care of. Someone from the FBI even offered Chaz a job. Super cool!!

Then Deryn brings us her Barbie because its leg popped off. We couldn't get it back on. She then says, "Cool I have an amputee barbie." She grabbed it and took off to play. I think you can say she's comfortable with amputees now. Kids are so resilient. Also they were both proud of their Daddy for walking everywhere. Deryn said to me, "I know Daddy will always need a wheelchair, but I like it when he walks. It's so cool!" Do think they are a little proud of their Daddy?!

I love how these awesome days just keep coming! We have been working on Chaz's leg/chair ratio for a long time. Yesterday he kicked its ass! The new normal just keeps getting better and better. Now he just has to grow 3-4 more inches! No even 9 months in and my awesome hubby bikes the Army Ten Miler and in less then a week spends the majority of his days out of his wheelchairs. Eat that, you idiot who planted that IED!!!

Saturday, October 15, 2011

October Chaz Update!!

Chaz is just moving right along! We were all exhausted from the Army Ten Miler, but he feels great. He did not have any injuries, no muscle strains and no soreness at all from the race. He was just tired, which is totally understandable. Chaz has not exerted that much energy and effort since before his injuries. So exhaustion is totally expected. 

We did hit another little bump in the road this week. It turns out his legs have shrunk in size (again). He had to be re-casted (again) for new sockets for his prosthetic legs. Currently he is having a hard time keeping the suction intact. Since his legs have shrunk (again) that means he needs new sockets. We did not expect his legs to shrink again, but thank goodness we are in such great hands. His new sockets will be ready next week. Chaz's legs are held on my suction. If his legs are too small for the sockets then he can't get the proper suction he needs. If his legs do not suction on good enough then they could fall off while he is walking and that is not good at all. This problem is already solved by the great prosthetic makers here in the hospital!

Tuesday we went to the 101st AUSA reception. We are so proud to be a apart of the 101st. We all four are members of this awesome huge family. They make sure their soldiers are taken care of. We highly enjoy hanging out with our 101st family. The highlight of that night was when General McConville (the current 101st Commanding General) told his wife the story of how we first met. I met him on the Senate floor back in March (I think). Senator Reed (Rhode Island) had invited the wounded up for a tour. Chaz was in surgery and they told me they weren't going to just let me sit and wait on him. We got to go to the Senate floor and listen to the Senate historian give the history of the Senate. When one of our soldiers asked her what was carved on the wall, she said, "I'm so sorry I don't speak Latin." (Technically no one speaks Latin, but you can read it, long story goes here). Senator Reed asked if anyone could translate and I raised my hand. I explained the key phrases (E Purblius Unum, Novus Ordo Seclorum, and Annuit Coeptis) and what they meant and how the are so important. Yes I wanted to make her feel bad. How can you be the Senate Historian and not know our Founding Fathers key phrases? I take our country's history seriously. McConville told his wife that watching me do that was beyond cool. He said, "She just jumped right in. I didn't think anyone knew Latin anymore." He said it was a proud day for the 101st.

Thursday we took another soldier and his wife to see Les Miserables. The Kennedy Center gives tickets to the wounded so they can have a night out every once in a while. Chaz and our friend have both had a pretty crappy year. I knew that Les Mis was our friend's all time favorite musical, so when the opportunity came across I snatched up four tickets quick. Our next door neighbors spoiled our girls while we were gone, but they had a ton of fun. I know that Thursday night was a great night for all four of us. It is so important to go have those great nights while you have to deal with all the medical and bureaucratic crap everyday!

Tuesday through Friday Chaz had all his normal appointments (PT, OT, nurse case manager, WTB and amputee clinic) and the girls and I did home school. Luckily Monday was Columbus Day and the hospital was "closed." We needed that extra day off! Now it's the weekend and we are going to go enjoy what should be a beautiful weekend!

Monday we'll be back to appointments, appointments and appointments. But my Mom arrives on Monday!!!!! So we're all a little excited to have Gee for a week in DC!!!!

Friday, October 14, 2011

What about the kids?!

Do you know who suffers the most during all of this? The children of the soldiers. Our children are the ones paying the ultimate price for this war. I think as adults it is so hard for us to remember all of this. We want our kids to be kids. But how can military children truly be kids when they have to step up and take on some of the family responsibilities? I know life is not fair, but our kids deserve better. They deserve to have their childhoods.

Did you know when the original Walter Reed closed it's doors there were 526 non-profits who were registered to be there? (I have not gotten the number Navy has allowed at the new Walter Reed). Do you know how many help the kids? I've counted 6, but only 1 is exclusive to the kids. Our Military Kids only focuses on our military children, but due to lack of funds they can only serve Wounded Warrior children and those children of deployed National Guard. You may think why only deployed National Guard? You must realize National Guard soldiers are spread out. Active Duty military are usually attached to a base and have a support group in place. National Guard come from everywhere and their children may find themselves being the only military child in the school. Our Military Kids targets these children so they don't get forgotten. Due to their limited funds they have to limit who they help. They are a great organization with a great mission and will go very far.

The Yellow Ribbon Fund focuses on caregivers and children. Help Our Military Heroes, Operation Second Chance, Operation Homefront and Aleethia attempt to serve the entire family. The rest of the organizations that I have encountered focus on the soldiers and sometimes include the families. Usually for the events, it's soldier plus one for the event. Sometimes it specifically says solider plus NMA (Non-Medical Attendant).

I can't tell you how many things we have turned down because they only want Chaz and I. I like to go out by ourselves every once in a while, but I have no desire to do it all the time. I actually like our girls a lot and I enjoy doing things as a family. Unfortunately a lot of people disagree. It broke my heart the other day when Deryn asked Chaz, "Daddy why don't they want me and sissy here?" She was talking about the hospital. Kids tell you exactly like it is. If our 9 year old feels like she's not wanted, then she's not wanted. Since the beginning we have kept our lines of communication open with our girls. We don't want them to hold anything back from us. We are trying to heal as a family not individually.

Yesterday Deryn had another breakdown. In tears she said, "I want to go home to Tennessee. I want my friends, my school and my house. Everyday it's all about Daddy and I just want to go home where it's about us." We have a lot more great days then bad. We're talking 100 great days to 1 bad one. Some of her fit was from being tired, some of it is from being 9 and some of it is the truth. When your child is in an environment where they are shut out at every turn how are they supposed to feel?

I think everyone should go to Bethesda and check it out. The only playground for our kids to play on it just outside of a day care and it is currently closed due to repairs. We toured the day care the other day and it is beautiful by the way and super organized. The only place for our kids to play at Bethesda is a book shelf and part of a wall in the SFAC (Soldier-Family Assistance Center). There was supposed to be a kids area in the MATC but the Joint Commission came through and cleared it out saying the kids bring in too many germs and their toys are not being sanitized to their standards. That's it a bookshelf and a wall. Wow, I know I'd feel welcome there!

I understand hospitals are not the proper places for children. Why do you think I left our girls in TN from January to May? But what about the families who don't have the options I had. What do they do? They wear themselves out trying to heal a husband and heal a family. Thank goodness for that new day care. At least they will get some sort of a break. But shouldn't there be a place there to help heal our kids?

I truly believe there should be an area designated just for our kids to be kids. At the minimum we need a freaking playground. These kids follow their parents around, sometimes all day long, and a playground would be a great place to let them run around and be kids for a little bit. There is a bowling alley there at Bethesda, but some kids have no interest in that at all. Almost every kid loves a swing or a slide. There also needs to be a kid play area that the Joint Commission has no say in. If it passes day care standards then the Joint Commission should not be involved. Besides I've seen some of there decisions and they have a tendency to go overboard. Remember even when you get the degrees, you have to also allow some common sense into your decisions.

I truly don't think our leaders truly thought through the consequences of this war. I don't think they factored in that one injured solider can effect thousands of lives. I don't think they thought about the soldiers' children. Does this make them horrible people, no not at all. We are all human, we all act without thinking. But now it is time to think. Let's make it better. It is not so far gone that we can't fix it.

Look at how the military has learned from these injuries and look at all the lives our medics have saved. We do not leave a soldier behind. We have adapted and have learned things to bring our guys back to their families. Look at the advances we have made in surgical techniques and prosthetics. One thing I am constantly thankful for it that Chaz was injured in 2011. We have learned so much about our soldiers and what they need. If Chaz had been injured a few years ago, he would have lost his right arm, because the technology was not there yet to save it. Chaz could have easily died right there on the ground or in the chopper, because he lost so much blood. But no, everyone involved knew exactly what to do and they did it and they got him home to us. So many have led the way to make it better for Chaz and the others. Please don't think I am happy that Chaz was hurt. I am happy that the Army trained their medics (very well, I'd like to add) to save his life. I am happy that he made it back home. I would rather have him the way I have him then to not have him in my life.

Now let's let the medical people do their jobs and let's listen to the families about how to heal the non-medical part of the soldier. It takes a village to raise a child and it takes a community to heal a soldier. The community is there, we just have to unite and demand to help the kids of our wounded.

We can make it better. We can keep our military kids on a positive path. We can teach them to not resent this situation. We can show them the country is proud of their parents for their sacrifice and we can give them the best future possible. That has been mine and Chaz's mission from day one. The first conversation we had was what to do about the girls. I am very proud of every decision we have made. We have not rushed into anything we have thought all of it through and I think it has paid off. Our girls will have several more meltdowns, hello they are 9 and 6. But we will continue to make our great days outnumber our bad. We will continue to find things to do as a family. I can only hope that the path we are blazing will help one other family. If we just help one all of this will be worth it in the end.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Army Ten Miler

I totally forgot, I've been exhausted and trying to recover so I could blog about the Army Ten Miler (ATM). It was an absolutely amazing weekend. Our family had such a great time!

My youngest brother, Jarrett, arrived on Wednesday of last week to hang out with us on his Fall Break and to come see Chaz race. It's kind of cool a 15 year old would give up his Fall Break to come hang out with his older sister and her kids. I know he had a blast, you could just tell he was having fun. We all enjoyed having him. Since we are so far apart in age, I haven't been able to spend enough time with him. I am so glad he took us up on our offer to come up here. Our Dad and his Mom (my Step-mom) arrived on Friday morning. Chaz's Mom and Dad arrived Friday night and our great friends Demetria and Ray arrive Saturday morning. So you could say we were covered up with family. It was great though.

Friday morning before our Dad and Step-Mom arrived we went to the DC Armory to complete Chaz's registration for the race. This is the ATM Expo. It was so cool! We went to the Fisher House booth first and got our Team Fisher House gear. Chaz and I were each coined and then Chaz was presented a plaque for Team Allen being the Most Valuable Team for Team Fisher House. There are some truly amazing people who work for the Fisher Foundation. We are so lucky to be apart of their team! I still can't believe we were able to raise over $10,000 for Team Fisher House! It's just so great to be able to give back to such a great organization that helps so many military families. Fisher House has been so great to us and we are so thankful we were able to give something back to them. We found out Chaz is the first amputee to race for Team Fisher House in the ATM! We were both so grateful that Chaz had that honor!

On our way out we stopped by another one of our favorite non-profit organizations, Operation Ward 57, to say hi. Once again it is so awesome to be a part of such a great organization. These folks assist the amputee ward of the hospital with what ever they may need. They have purchased supplies for the staff, fed the soldiers (because hospital food gets old quick), and the list goes on and on. Chaz wanted to represent them some how, but we got so caught up in the crazy weekend we forgot the stickers for his bike. Next time we'll be better prepared.

We got back to our apartment just in time to meet my Dad and Step-mom. Everyone was so tired that we all just chilled out for the day and got caught up on the happenings of the families. I had put on a pot of pinto beans. (We southern folk are easy to please! Give us a pot of beans and throw in some cornbread and we're thrilled!) Funny thing is the beans were the little brother's idea. I whipped up some cornbread and we pigged out! YUM!

Chaz's Mom and Dad arrived at bed time. My Dad and Step-Mom had already retreated to their hotel up the street from our apartment. They were tired. We got to hang out with Chaz's parents for a minute and they went to pass out too! Demetria and Ray arrived (with Starbucks in hand) early Saturday morning.

My Dad had never been to DC and Chaz's mom had never gotten to go see anything in the area when she's been up here before. So me and the girls, my Dad and Step-mom, Chaz's Mom and Demetria went to go do the touristy thing! The girls and I took them to the monuments. We were trying to get the most bang for our buck! We left Chaz, Ray, Jarrett and Chaz's Dad back at the apartment to watch some football! We returned to the apartment and created a make your own sandwich bar for everyone. Then everyone went to bed at 9. I got our back pack of what we needed packed and then I went to pass out!

3:45am came very, very early! It was crazy I set the alarm for 4am, but I sprung awake at 3:45, so I got up and got ready to go! Thank goodness we were early, because I got lost! I was freaking out. We had to be at our entrance at 5:30, because they shut down all the roads. I called the ATM operations manager earlier in the week and begged for VIP parking for Chaz (which wasn't hard to accomplish by the way). But you had to be there no later than 5:30am. It was 5:33am and I was just getting to the exit. The policemen were setting out the cones and I pulled up and told them what was going on and showed him our pass and said go right ahead and said good luck to Chaz. The ATM operations manager got us rock star parking! It was awesome! We pulled right up and got out. Master Sgt Barnes our liaison to the 101st had Chaz's bike and now we had to get to him.

Once we started looking around and asking we found out there were 2 concrete barriers between the start line and finish line. Not exactly ideal for us. Chaz and I thought there was only one so we were making a plan to get him and his wheelchair over it. Then I saw the second one and I said no way dude. I started walking around and I found the Colonel who is in charge of Walter Reed's PT department. I told him what was going on. He went back into his tent and grabbed two soldiers and told them to put us on their gators and get us over there and off we went.

We got to the finish line and found Barnes with Chaz's bike. We hung out with him and another wounded warrior, her hubby and a Pentagon security officer. Before we knew it, it was time to pull the bikes down to the line. That was just before 7 and the bikers started at 7:50. Thank goodness they distracted us with some music, the honor guard and the Golden Knights (the Army's parachute team). The time would have drug on if they hadn't. The ATM operations manager had also given me a bracelet so I could stay on the start line with Chaz. Can I just tell you it was awesome to hang out with all the wounded warriors?! I got to walk around and visit with them and wish them luck. That was the highlight of my day.

7:50 came quick I gave my Rock Star hubby a good luck kiss. Then I had to put Chaz's wheelchair over the barrier and then hop over myself. I stood around to watch them all take off. It was so cool to have a front row seat to see all of our wounded take off!! They are all so awesome and I am so proud that I have been blessed to get to know them.

I helped the PT and OTs push the wheelchairs to the finish line. Let me tell you Chaz's power-assist chair is wicked crazy to push. To me it's like pushing a power wheel, without the power. The darn thing fights you the whole way.

I got the chair to finish line and then found our friends from Operation Ward 57 in place at the finish line to cheer for our guys. Then I found our families walking up. We all got there just minutes before Chaz crossed the line. I calculated that he would be at the finish line between 45 minutes to an hour. That guy just had to prove me wrong and crossed at 41 minutes and 6 seconds. The look on his face was just awesome. You could see he was proud that he made it so fast. Then you could see he was excited to see all the people cheering for him. It was another great moment!! Deryn was so proud of her Daddy. You could just see it on her face. She wanted to get to him as fast as possible. She summed up how we all felt, incredibly proud of Chaz and how amazingly far he has come in such a short amount of time.

We hung out to congratulate some of the other bikers and runners. The we went to explore the hooah tents. This is just a series of tents put up and supported by various organizations. Of course we had to go see Team Fisher House and the 101st Association. We just had a ton of fun hanging out with everyone. We even found Chaz's old Platoon Leader who had also ran the race.

We had to leave the ATM to get everyone back to our apartment to get them their bags so they could all catch their evening flights. Everyone had a plane to catch at either 5 or 6. We had been invited to General Campbell's house at 3. So it worked out great. We got to hang with our families one last time, then we loaded up to head towards Arlington.

General Campbell and his wife Ann are simply awesome. General Campbell was the previous 101st Commanding General. They truly care about all of the soldiers and their families and you can feel it when you meet them. We had a lovely time there hanging out with the Campbells and all of our 101st friends. General McConville, General Odierno, CSM St Louis, Dick Winters, CSM Shroeder, MSGT Barnes and so many of our 101st family were all there. It was a great part of our day.

We left the Campbell's home to go meet with Chaz's old Platoon Leader Adam, his wife and her parents for dinner. It was the perfect way to end our day. We got to just chill out and enjoy some great food together.

Chaz has decided he would like to make the ATM an annual event for our family. I am totally cool with it. We have decided we'd like to come every year go visit other soldiers at the hospital and then go race. I think this is a great idea! Unfortunately we know there will be more wounded and they will need some one to come let them know what the future looks like. I think this is another great way for us to keep paying it forward!

Crossing the Finish Line!

Team Allen with Tish Stropes of Fisher House!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

You Cannot Control My Dreams....

“ ‘Here comes that dreamer!’ they said to each other” (Genesis, 37:19, NIV) This scripture comes from the story of Joseph. Poor Joseph, he was disliked by so many, but no matter what he never gave up! He had his dreams and he put faith in God to see those dreams come true. His own brothers wanted him gone because they were so jealous of his positivity and his relationship with their father. His own brothers sold him into slavery. Then he was thrown in jail, but no matter how dark his world got he held on to his dreams. Later the Pharaoh heard of his abilities and called Joseph out of prison and then rewarded him for dreams. 

Joseph's story has always been one of my favorite stories from the bible. Andrew Lloyd Webber created a great song to try to sum up Joseph's struggles. The song says, "Close every door to me, keep those I love from me, children of Israel are never alone, for we know we shall find our own piece of mind, for we have been promised a land of our own." To me this says, no matter what adversities come your way, no matter how dark your world may seem, God put those dreams in your head and he has promised you great things, but you have to find that piece of your own mind on your own and seek Him. If you let go of that dark and seek the light and step in faith God will see you through, but you have to hang on. God does not guarantee us an easy road, but He does promise to see us through.

I can tell you the most frustrating part of this journey is being told "you can't do that" or "why would you want to do that?" or "we want you to do this" or to even have someone try to control what you do. The funny thing is very few medical people have tried to put limits on us, it's everyone else. It is these ignorant people who have their own issues who don't want us to succeed without them by our side. Or they want to ride on our coat tails so they can tell others it was their idea, or they were the ones who helped us do what ever. These people have had a hard time succeeding with their normal lives and have a hard time watching a family who's been knocked down succeed despite such a huge adversity. People just do not understand how we do it. You know how we do it. We do it together with our love, our hope, our faith and our joy.

Guess what the last time I checked we are a family of four. Just because we've had lunch with you or even went to an event with you does not mean you are family. That doesn't mean we are BFF and it sure as heck does not grant you private unlimited access to our family and especially not to our girls. It does not entitle you to tell us what to dream or how to accomplish those dreams. It does not mean you get free range to interpret our dreams. It does not mean we want to be apart of your dream. It does not mean we want to be your poster children. You need to go get your own dreams and accomplish them your own way. We should not be the catalyst for your dreams. God does not make dreams dependent on another person's actions, he makes them dependent on your actions. We should not be your entire focus. If we are then you need to move on. We are healing a family and that doesn't happen over night. It is a very long process and we need a few commitments as possible to make this happen the way we need to. If you don't understand that, then you need to go your own way and best wishes to you!

Of course Chaz and I want to help people on this road. We've been doing that as much as we can. But our girls will always come first. If we can come to your event and help tell people about the great things you are doing, we'll be there. We've spoken for Our Military Kids, raised funds for Fisher House and we try to get as many non-profit onto Team Allen as possible. We want others to know about these amazing groups and what they are doing. But these groups have asked for our permission, not tried to control us and they have all been so respectful of our choices, so they are a good fit for us. We will not be apart of anything that binds us to them without the ability to have the freedom to help others. We will definitely not have anything to do with you if you don't respect our wishes. Our wishes are not subject to alteration. We spell it flat out for you. Do not read into it, read it in black and white, do it and leave it alone.

God has blessed me with this amazing gut to know what to do and when to do it. Around here we call it my mommy gut or sometimes my Jiminy Cricket. Remember in Pinocchio when Jiminy Cricket describes our conscious as that small, still voice that people seldom listen too?! Well when you are on this road that voice isn't small, it has a freaking megaphone. I have let this voice guide me on this journey and it has yet to be wrong!

I had to retreat into our little sanctuary for a little bit (hence why no blogs) because we have someone trying to use our words and pictures without our permissions. Here's a big news flash NO means freaking NO! Don't think that for one minute I will not seek legal counsel to deal with you. I was a pre-law major, do you know how many friends I have in the legal profession? In addition, I have the US Army JAG Corps, the 101st, a few Senators and Congresspersons and the freaking White House who will not allow for our wounded, much less our family to have difficulties like this on our road to recovery. Do not threaten me with what-ifs. You cannot win a psychological war with me. You see, God has prepared me for this fight! God may be putting us through a struggle, we may not have our families anywhere near to us, but we have an amazing new pseudo-family overloaded with awesome people that totally has our back!  

I have always believed God closes doors because he wants you to look somewhere else. Sometimes that is another door or sometimes a window. God has taken many people in and out of our lives and I am thankful for each and every one of them. I am thankful for the good and the bad. I am thankful for it all. I know He puts me through it all so I can learn and so I can share what I have learned with others.

Don't ever tell me my dreams are too big or that they are unachievable. These are my dreams. They may not happen, but that doesn't mean that I will stop dreaming them. God has great things in store for us all. He has put my little family on a rocky but amazing road full of a few crazy people but with way more incredible people and opportunities. God has rewarded us for dealing with these crazies by blessing us with these amazing opportunities and people. God has already made some of my dreams come true. I got to keep my family together. My husband can drive a car and best of all he is walking again. I will keep on dreaming and no thing or no one will ever stop me! I seriously dare you to try to stop me or to try to control my life! It is not very wise to back me into a corner, I will come out aiming for your jugular. I had a General once tell me, "You are a momma bear I would not cross and good for you." I think that pretty much sums it up. If a General won't cross me, then why in the heck would you?

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Front Row Seats!

You know what is the most amazing part of this journey?! It's the fact that I have front row seats to all of it! Let me tell you these seats are freaking amazing!!!!

In January if you would have told me that Chaz would be participating in the Army Ten Miler, I would have probably laughed in your face. In less than eight months, my hubby has healed himself enough and trained to go bike ten miles around DC to help raise money for Fisher House. It took me longer to make and have our girls and our oldest was two weeks early. WOW!!

I woke up this morning and looked at my hubby and thought to myself I am just so lucky to have him. I am so blessed to be here by his side. I am so blessed to see this man become even more amazing every day. Not a moment goes by that I don't feel so thankful that I could pop from joy over the fact that he chose me to be his wife. Gees, it's just freaking awesome. And yes girls, he's all mine, you can have a handshake, conversation or hug, but other than that forget it! ;)

Earlier this week we needed to kill some time at the hospital before our next thing on the agenda. I looked at Chaz and said, "Let's go check in on McConnell." And of course he agreed. My hubby is a natural Army leader. He just steps right up to take care of all soldiers under his rank. It makes me so proud. I was extremely proud of him as I watched him talk to Derek. You could see that Chaz was making an impact on Derek and it was great to see. Derek and Chaz need each other. Chaz is still a squad leader and he needs to lead the soldiers. Derek needs a leader who knows exactly what it feels like to lay in that bed. Derek needs to hear from someone who's been there that it will be ok. They are so great for each other.

I wish I would have taken a picture of Derek's face when we told him Chaz was biking in the Army Ten Miler this weekend. He was shocked. Chaz had to explain all of it to him. I leaned over and told Derek, "No pressure, but there's one next year too. You guys can bike together!" Derek looked at me and I said, "If Chaz can do it you can." His mom chimed in to agree with me.

Chaz took the girls down the hall for a second and Derek asked me if Chaz always looked that good. I said, "Of course not want to see?" Before he could even respond I pulled up some of the pics on my phone. Chaz had me take pictures on my phone during different phases so I could show him what things looked like when he couldn't see them. I showed them to Derek. I then said, "Remember we started in January." You could see we connected over those pics. He knew we knew exactly how he felt. I love making those connections with the other families. I love that we can heal together. It makes all of this so much easier.

You can walk around and tell someone a thousand times, "It will get better." But it means almost nothing unless it comes from someone who has walked in your shoes. I told Derek's mom Siobhan once, "I am in your shoes, I'm just a few feet ahead of you guys. One day we'll be side by side." I know it gives her great comfort talking to someone who knows exactly what this is all like. The beginning really is the highway through hell. This road hurts so bad and all you can do is keep walking forward and keep the faith that God will pull you through. You have these insanely hard days that come out of nowhere. Then one day the clouds part and it just gets better. It really happens that way. Of course we occasionally have bad days. We have always had more good days, then bad ones. Now our bad days are almost non-existent.

This week has been an amazing "pay it forward" week! Chaz and I cannot just receive, we have to give back. We are in a place in our journey where we can. It is so awesome that we can help others. This week we were able to help another family just like other families have helped us. We were able to go in and just listen to them and share experiences. Seeing that family smile and having them laugh with us was just so awesome! It just feels so great to show them how the next stage looks!

Then we got to help build a new Fisher House by raising money for them. Many thanks to Ryan & Gretchen at Q108 in Clarksville, TN!! We could have never have been able to help Fisher House this much without them. Many thanks to Clarksville, TN for their never-ending and absolutely amazing support for our soldiers!! That new Fisher House will be at the Alvin C York VA facility in Murfreesboro TN. I guarantee Chaz and I will be there when they cut that ribbon on that house! Thank you all for your continued prayers and support!! We are so grateful for you all!!!!!

Sunday, October 2, 2011

A Bahaha Moment!

Bahaha moments are my favorite moments. You know what I'm talking about. It's those moments when you laugh at someone for being an idiot. Or when you have the same thought as someone else. Or when someone just now gets the Capt Obvious moment. There are so many of these great moments! It's those moments when you sit back and have that laugh that sounds like "Bahaha." I just love them!

I have lots of these moments but a few days ago I had one that may be my favorite. Chaz's Ortho Trauma lead doctor is really great. He is a little older and totally set in his ways. He and I got along very well. He has very good communication skills and really cares for the soldiers. Chaz and I were totally comfortable with him. He is the one who fired feeding tube lady off of Chaz's team for me. He saw me when I was visiting the McConnell family and wanted to catch up and see how we were doing. Unfortunately most of the docs don't get to see the guys once they leave their care. He was really excited to see us. He lit up when Chaz wheeled down the hall. It was great!

He pulled me aside and said, "I need to tell you something." I nodded. He said, "We all thought you were crazy with your week in DC, week in TN plan. We all thought you'd give up. We all thought that smile of yours would go away. Can I just tell you I am so glad we were all wrong? We actually were betting on how long you'd last. Now we all use you as a reference. So how did you do it?" I had to swallow that one down. This is the man who was instrumental in my decision in February, now tells me everyone doubted me from the beginning. Well I am so glad he waited 8 months to tell me that. Wow!

Then it hit me. I proved a gazillion doctors wrong, bahaha!!! Isn't that hilarious?! All these medical professionals were sure I would fail. Actually it turns out they were positive I would fail. It's so funny, since this all started the only opinions that mattered to me were Chaz's. I listened to others, but always went back to him. He and I knew we could make it work and we did. Don't get me wrong, being in two airports every Wednesday was not fun. Leaving either Chaz or the girls every week was rough, but the girls needed to stay in TN and be in school and be with their friends and they needed to be kids. Chaz needed me to be with him without distractions. The only way to do that was to spend one week with him and then one week with the girls. I don't even know how many planes I was on, but it's was a high number. One thing I have learned for sure it the best decisions that you make for those you love are usually the hardest. Best does not always equal easy, let me assure you!

Eight months later, we're all together and we did make it work. Chaz and I prove that with love, hope and determination you can prove even the smartest group of doctors wrong. I guess you can't underestimate the power of hope, love and prayer!

Saturday, October 1, 2011

At the beginning...

I have been asked a few times this week, "What would you tell families just beginning this journey?" There's just so much to tell someone. I don't know where I would start. I am going to touch on a few things that others at the beginning need to know. These are not ranked in any order. I am just listing them as I think of them.

1. You cannot do this alone! Stop thinking you can do it all alone! You cannot clone yourself or split yourself into two. (Trust me I tried!) I am not trying to be mean, but if I couldn't do it alone you don't need to try to do it alone. People seriously want to help you. I have to thank my friend Kelly for raising her voice at me the day Chaz was hurt. She asked what can I do? And I seriously didn't know so I said I don't know. She then looked at me and in a very stern motherly tone said, "You have to let us help you." It was that moment that showed me I have to let others help because they love our family. I stubbornly tried to do it all, but it was all exhausting. I caved very early on and began letting people help. I am so glad I did!

I am blessed by an amazing group of friends and a great family so I had all the help I needed. As we have continued on this journey we have been blessed by so many other new people and organizations. Everyone does not have the incredible support system we have. But if you are military there is some type of support group right there and ready to help you. Take the help!!

2. Don't be afraid to breakdown and cry it out! I find my strength in tears. I have cried so many happy tears through this. Within days of Chaz's injuries I made a rule that only happy tears would be shed for us. We have had a ton of happy tears moments. They are great moments too. I cried when they said he was stable and coming to the US and when they saved his arm because to me those are happy moments not sad ones. I cried when Chaz stood up for the first time. I cried when he moved his fingers on his right hand for the first time. I cried when his online gaming buddies told me what they were planning. I cried when our girls got to see Chaz for the first time. I cried when I got off the plane with my family finally together in Tennessee. So are so many more of those moments that the happy tears just poured out and we laughed over them.

On the adverse if I get too ticked off I will cry. However, when I get so angry from crying that I channel that into something positive. My mom has always said I get some of my best ideas when I have an angry cry. But let me tell you if you make me so angry that I cry, you better watch out. I am not crying for nothing! Something will come out of those tears and it may be your job.

Regardless of the type of tears, don't bottle up those tears, let them out! No matter if they are happy or sad tears you will feel better if you let them out instead of keeping them trapped. Trust me on this. If you are a contact lens wearer you better stock up now. You'll be going through them quick.

3. Be thankful!!! Yes, your soldier was injured. Yes, that totally sucks. Yes, your lives have been turned upside down. Yes, your soldier has to change everything they ever done to make the world work for them. Yes, your kids and your families are hurt by it. Yes, you gave up everything to be by your soldier's side. But here's an important news flash for you, your soldier came home!

You can heal together. You could be alone in your healing journey. Chaz had a friend who also stepped on an IED and was amputated. The medics just didn't get him out fast enough so we lost that friend. Chaz's friend's IED was smaller than Chaz's. That has always been my point of reference. I could be a 32 year old widow. But you know what, I am not. My hubby now requires assembly to go anywhere, but we're getting really good at it and I bet that as time passes we'll get even better. I am just so glad to still have Chaz in our lives that I really don't care what I have to do for him. I'll do it!

If you can get up everyday and just be thankful that your soldier is with you for another day and stay focused on that fact alone you will see the rest will become a lot easier. Also you need to be thankful their injuries aren't worse than what they could be. You can find story after story of someone who is worse or better than your soldier. You should seek the incredible stories of survival and healing they will encourage you to hang on and keep going.

4. Use but do not take advantage of the non-profits. They are 526 non-profit organizations who associate themselves with the hospital. They really do want to help you, but if you use them celebrate what they did for your family and let others know about how awesome they are. Don't act like what they do for you isn't good enough and for goodness sake don't complain about it. And don't think that because you have an injured soldier, you are entitled.

We Americans have a problem. We think we are entitled to things. Let me tell this to you straight out you are not entitled to anything. No one owes you a thing. You soldier wanted to serve our incredible country. They were following orders when they were injured. You both should have realized the risks you take when serving in the military. Is it fair this happened to you? No, but it happened and you have to embrace the suck and move forward. Yes your soldier was injured in his line of work, but they could have received similar injuries from a car accident. Do not attack or blame the non-profits for your soldiers' injuries. The non-profits want to help you because they are proud of your soldier's service. They are also proud of you for staying beside them. So let them help you, but don't be a leech! And do not be ungrateful! If you dare try to be ungrateful in front of me, you will not enjoy the words that come out of my mouth. Ask some of the wives who dared to whine to me about not getting things. This is not a journey to see what you can get. This is a journey to healing where we celebrate the lives we've been given. Celebrate the gift of life, not the gifts of tangible objects.

5. Shut up and listen to the doctors. Don't yell at them non-stop, breathe and shut up. I know you are mad but remember, the military has some awesome doctors. First of all remember they saved your soldier and got him home to you. They did not plant the IED out there so don't talk to them like it's all their fault. Believe it or not they actually don't want to do all the surgeries and procedures that they are doing. They are doing all of them because they have had a lot of practice and they know what works. They are sitting at the cutting edge of technology. People from all over ask them questions. Grey's Anatomy even did a shout out to Walter Reed. We have some rock stars here. I can tell you all the stories of what they have done for Chaz. So be thankful for them and what they are doing to help you heal.

Listen to them, but if you don't understand what is going on, ask every question you can think of until you understand. You need to understand it all. The medical lingo is intimidating, so stop them and tell them to speak your language. They'll do it if you just ask. The doctors are on your team. They want to heal your soldier. They want to help you get to the happily ever after. Let them help! Help them, help you! Work together, not against each other. Also don't be afraid to suggest,"So what happens if we wait?" Also if you and your soldier aren't comfortable with what is going on you can request another doctor, nurse or whatever you need. Do what works for you. If you do nothing, then you cannot complain.

Please remember the doctors are all still practicing medicine. They are not God, they are just praying for his wisdom to help them through and you should do the same. Every human is different. What works for Chaz may not work for the next ten soldiers, but it may work for number eleven. The human body is a wild and crazy thing. The doctors have to sometimes go through trial and error to make everything work. You need to know now there is NO easy button with healing. You cannot throw a Z-pack and some steroids at your soldier and think it will magically heal them. Because it will not work in this situation. Pray for patience and use that patience. I know it's hard but you have too.

5. Everyday talk with your soldier and make sure you are both comfortable with everything going on. Make sure you are being their advocate. Don't be afraid to stand up for them. You need to know now this road is long, super bumpy and exhausting. It's like the worst ride at Disney World. Your happily ever after is just at the end, but you have to get flipped upside down more times than you can count and a couple of nauseating turns have to get tossed in there too before you can get off.  The ride is so much easier if you stay in the same car on the ride. You will heal better if you reflect on the happy times and if you make plans for the future. Make lots of plans, it will bring a lot of happy into your life.

6. Remember you are human and you also have to take care of yourself. You have to get sleep, you have to eat, you have to take a break. There will be times when a break is impossible. Look for that break. Your break can be a 10 minute phone call to your best girlfriend, lunch out of the hospital or maybe even a massage or shopping trip. You need a break, not a forever break, but some type of a break! I know it's hard, but it's necessary. You will push yourself to the absolute point of exhaustion. If you don't care for you, you will not be able to take care for your soldier. I always say it's not about me, but then I realized if I don't take care of me, then I can't help my family either. You have to find just a few minutes to be all about you. This journey is about your family, but you are the cornerstone. If that cornerstone starts flaking away the rest will crumble and you will have to rebuild from scratch and it will be even harder.

7. Hope is there if you just look for it. I know you think there is little to no hope. I know you think it won't get better, but that's because you just got started. If you will look you will find that small little LED light of hope is there. If you let it, you will see that that little light will grow. If you let the hope take you over, this road you are on gets a lot easier. Hold on to that hope. Look at people like me and Chaz and all the others and see the next step that lies in front of you. If we can do it you can! We sought out hope through our faith and love and continued moving forward. The road is hard but not impossible!

8. This is just the beginning and it gets better. I promise it gets better. I have lived through this and can tell you it gets so much better! One magical day you get to leave the hospital and you get to get your independence, which is a little scary, but so awesome at the same time. You have you own little graduation party and step out into the future. Amazing opportunities will land in your lap and if you take time to enjoy them, you will have a blast!

To quote Hannah Montana, "Life is what you make it, so let's make it rock!" Oh yes I went there, we have two little girls who made us listen to that song again and again. But it's true, life is what you make it. You can make it rock or you can make it horrible. The path you take is your choice. Your choice, not somebody else, so pick the path you want to be on. Don't sit around and blame other people take control and go have some fun! Hang on and enjoy the ride (no matter how nauseated you get) and celebrate what you've been given! Life is too short to sit around and whine. There is too much awesomeness out there, go enjoy some of it!!