Tuesday, January 29, 2013

January 28, 2013- What an Amazing Day!!

People often ask me, "How do you do it?" I reply with "What?" And usually I get, "Continue to stay so happy?" Or "Still have a smile to wear?" Well let me explain why.

God never promised us an easy road. I've read the bible three times cover to cover and let me tell you it's not in there. What is in there are the numerous stories of those who walked in faith and came out victorious. Think of Job, think of Joseph, both of them had so much sorrow and disappointment thrown at them and yet they never gave up. My husband is a present day example that parallels to Job and Joseph and I am so honored to be walking along this journey with him.

When I saw Chaz for the first time after his injury, we didn't say anything at first. I smiled and he smiled. There were no tears. He asked me, "Are you ok?" And my reply was, "It's just legs," then he grab my hand and before we knew it we were surrounded by doctors explaining what all was going on and what was going to happen. Chaz later told a reporter my three words were all he needed to know it would be ok. Chaz tells me all the time that I have enough faith for all four of us. I guess that's a wife and mother's job?

Flat out the past two years have sucked. Sorry, but if you can come up with a better word for all of this than I am all for it. Unfortunately I can only come up with colorful language to add to that word. Do you know what has made these past two years tolerable? The people entering our lives all along the way are what has made this journey more that tolerable. Yesterday was another one of the days along this journey where at the end of it I sit back and just marvel at how incredibly great God can be. Faith is one of those things that is so easy to give up on and so easy to lose. We have survived the past two years because together we have walked in faith knowing God will see us through the storm. We knew He would reward us for our suffering and sacrifice. We have been so blessed and the blessings keep on coming. God has put so many amazing people into our lives and I just can't say thank you enough.

Yesterday was exactly what we needed. We needed another day filled with smiles and laughs. Our friend and fellow wounded warrior Scott was there. We've known his family since we arrived at WRAMC. Scott and Chaz have almost identical injuries. Chaz's medic was there. He's the reason we still have Chaz with us. CSM St Louis was there. St Louis represented the 101st Association and has been very supportive of all our 101st soldiers. These three guys made us feel like the 101st was with us for this new exciting chapter of our journey.

Yesterday, way more people came to attend our ground breaking then we ever thought would. We met (I believe) all of our new neighbors. I got to have a mini high school reunion. We got to meet some truly great people who just wanted to thank Chaz for his service and meet our family. My 3rd grade teacher and my 3/4th grade music teacher were there. The people there yesterday just made the day as perfect as it could be without all of our family and close friends being there. The day would have only have been better if we could have had all of our family and all of our friends there.

We are just so thankful for such a great day yesterday. We are thankful for Helping A Hero entering our lives and helping us move forward. We are thankful for old friends and new friends who have joined us on this journey. Yesterday was just one of those amazing days where you just could explode from all the reasons you have to be thankful. I just feel so blessed that our family is able to have such amazing days like yesterday.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Which One of You?

Before Chaz deployed to Afghanistan June 2010, I attended a deployment meeting. I remember sitting there looking at the ground the entire time. There were hundreds of people in that room. I later told Chaz I just couldn't look at anyone. I just couldn't stand the thought of another face of someone injured or killed being in my head. I already had so many and I just couldn't stand to have anymore. All I kept thinking in that meeting was which one of you will it be this time? Little did I know that within months that face would be the face of the love of my life.

Chaz's tour of Iraq in 2005-06 was so very hard on us. He lost over thirty soldiers in his company within that year. One of his friends who he had known for his entire career was also killed in that year. I stopped counting at thirty because I couldn't take it anymore. That "thirty" doesn't include the injured for that deployment. Since that tour we have added other friends to that "thirty" from other deployments. Our number is way higher than "thirty" but I'll never sit down to add them all up.

Iraq was so hard on me that I became a "5% Army wife" according to my friend. I only did what I had to after that tour. I love my hubby and am very proud of his service, but I just had to put those walls up. Chaz was frustrated, but totally understood that I didn't really want to meet anyone from his unit after Iraq. Chaz said some of the guys and their wives just didn't get me. Something tells me they do now.

The other night I ran to Publix, which is fabulous by the way, to grab a few groceries. I was just going along my merry way and then saw service member after service member. They were every where. There were 101st patches were all around me. I found myself getting the things I knew we needed and getting out as fast as possible. At first I didn't even realize what I was doing. I became like a robot and threw the few things I knew I needed in that cart and got out of there. I bet this could be a new way to save money. (My attempt at a joke here.)

I got into the car and realized what was going on. I knew the 101st is deploying again. I now work with families trying to heal from the damages of war. I never looked at the faces or names of the people in the store, I just saw the 101st patches. Oh my goodness, I was scared to put another face in my head. I was scared that one of those faces could be a new family for us to take care of. Reality was hitting me hard and I was two beats away from tears. I had to take a minute and just breathe. I did then I drove home and told my hubby all about it.

I know that the Afghanistan is quite right now. It's the winter and this is when we see the fewest injuries. Spring is just around the corner. The 101st is going to take over and that means I will soon have new 101st families to take care of. The gravity of that reality hit me in Publix the other night and it has weighed so heavy on my heart. I realized I will be needed for the rest of my life. Chaz will always need some degree of my help with healing from his injuries. Other families will need help from YRF and the other non-profits for one reason or another. Other families will need my help navigating through this craziness. I think all of those patches surrounding me the other night made me finally realized I am going to be needed for an indefinite amount of time and that burden is a tough one to carry.

The truth is I don't want anymore new families to take care of. I don't want to know anymore faces going to war. I want to be out of a job. I want to just go back to just being a tax preparer. Since the need is never going away, I fear I have definite job security. So for now my brain can't stop but think which one of you?

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

January 22 Deja Vu

Two years ago today, my day started out just like any other day in my life before Chaz's injury. Then at 8am, a phone call sent my day and subsequently our lives down another path. I spent that day crying off and on. Shortly after that first call, I took out my contacts and didn't even attempt to put on makeup. Today should have been a day of celebration. Instead today mimicked January 22, 2011 in too many ways. 

We arrived home this past Sunday and after the excitement calmed down we realized our family dog, Arf, wasn't looking right. My Mom filled me in that he hadn't been acting like himself and had been seen by the vet on Friday. Arf had a follow up appointment yesterday and we found out his heart is failing. Of course, I cried upon hearing this news, but we decided to wait to tell the girls.

Well today was worse. At 7am, I was down stairs giving Arf his meds and he looked about the same. Then at 8am, he looked absolutely horrible. Then a few hours later, the girls noticed that Arf was on the decline and our day crashed as hard as it did two years ago. Out went the contacts and the makeup became an after thought.

Deryn was the reason we adopted Arf in 2003. She was just 9 months old and she wasn't leaving the store without Arf, who was just a few months younger. They have been the best of friends. Arf welcomed Deryn's little sister home from the hospital in 2005 with a little snip and Chaz helped straighten him out. Arf has been such a great addition to our little family. We have so many great family memories of him.

It has been so hard for us to be away from him when we were in DC. Luckily my mom stepped up to help us and Arf lived with her. When we came home Arf came home and when we left he went to Grandma's house. The last time we were home we told Arf that that is it and we'd be home soon. He was excited, you could just tell. But now I wonder if he was holding out to get us home to say good-bye to us.

Just like two years ago I held my babies today and had to talk to them about how life sometimes is just not fair. This time was a little easier because Daddy was here to help me. This time we had Daddy as proof that life is anything but fair, but our little family can get through anything together. You can imagine all the tears that have been shed today. I think I have been the worst by far. I just keep thinking about how lucky Chaz and I are to have these amazing little girls. They have been through so much. They are these little rock stars and we are so proud of them.

Our Arf is still with us right now, but the doctor says it's only a matter of time. Unfortunately there is nothing that can be done for him. We have decided we are going to make him comfortable as possible and surround him with love. He is not currently in any pain and I just can't stand the thought of putting him down. I am praying God just puts him to rest for us.

We did make a promise to our girls today that Arf will make it to our new home one way or the other. When the time comes we will bury him on our new land so he always stays with us. We ask that you please pray for our little family during this difficult time. Arf has been with us for over 10 years. And as much as I hate to admit it, it seems that we are having a little January 22 deja vu.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Graduation Day!!!

Chaz is officially retired. Today begins our longest chapter. I am nervous and excited!! We have graduated and it is time to move forward. We leave our cute little apartment in MD this afternoon. Tomorrow we will pull into our driveway for good.

This feels so much like high school and college graduation. We've worked hard and learned a lot and now it it time to take those lessons with us. It is time to share our knowledge with the world. It is time to go and rock it out in a new way!

Everyone keeps saying I'll miss this place (referring to Bethesda). No, I'll miss the people. I'll miss their smiling faces. I'll miss driving by the Capitol on a regular basis. I'll miss the Smithsonians and landmarks. I'll miss little things like having groceries delivered. However, I will not miss the lack of parking, the horns honking, the rude people and things like that.

Here's why I am really not crying today. I'll be back. Yellow Ribbon Fund asked me to stay on and words cannot express how excited I am about that. I know I am not finished here and evidently God thought so too. He presented me with an opportunity that I just couldn't pass on. My hubby even said I couldn't pass on it. So I agreed to stay on and I'll be back in DC, on a quarterly basis at a minimum. I have many great projects going on with YRF and I really want to see them through and YRF wants me to see them through too.

I am excited that I will still stay connected with this network. I am excited that I am still going to be able to help. But today I am most excited about taking my little family home so we can really move on with our lives. We're been stuck in the holding position for way too long. It's time for us to move on.

Two years is way too long to live out of a suitcase. I am ready to just have to use a carry-on every once in a while. I am ready to enjoy our home without a time limit on it. I am ready to snuggle with my cat who had to live at my sister's house all this time. I am ready to take our dog for walks again. I am ready to sit on my front porch in my rocking chairs and gossip with the neighbors while drinking our sweet tea. I am ready to park my car in our garage rather that driving around a three story garage looking for a spot. I am ready for the new normal!

My excitement for all the little things that I have waited too long for prevents me from crying. I will miss so many people. I will miss our random long chats in places. I will miss our venting on the rooftop. I'll miss our nights out and away, but I know we'll have them again. So friends if you are crying for us today, I hope you are crying because you are so excited for us you just cannot contain it.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Moving On.....Packing and Painting

The time has come for us to move home to begin a new and the longest chapter of our healing. We are packing up boxes, cleaning out drawers and painting walls. Yes, we are painting, it's just a little touch up paint here and there. My friends and family are upset about two things the moving and the painting. I am going to explain a little bit of this in the hopes of reassuring them we are ok. ;)

My military friends are upset because they feel the military should be moving us home. Chaz and I 100% agree. Here's why they are not, or should I say this is what we've been told. First we were told this was not a "normal" PCS (permanent change of station) move so we are not entitled to the move. It's funny that I have Chaz's orders on me that state otherwise. And we were never officially moved up here from Campbell. We were only moved here on paper. Just saying...

Second we were told if we use the military to move us home to TN then we lose our final retirement move. Since the furniture in our apartment belongs to the Army and we only need to move personal belongings, it makes more sense to use that Army move for when the new house is built. We have a 2 story house full of furniture and all sorts of things so it makes a lot of sense to get the military to move that for us. Chaz and I feel if we chose the MD to TN move over the move to the new house that we would be wasting our move option.

Third we were told an exception to policy would be denied due to budget cuts. We would have two moves within a year and that just wasn't going to work, so we had to pick one. Because of these three reasons, Chaz and I decided to drive up and bring my car up here January 2.

Our friends are flying up the morning we drive out/ Chaz's actual retirement date. We must be out of the apartment on Chaz's retirement date, which is the same day our friends fly in. We'll pack as much in the cars as possible Friday night and hit the road when our friends get here. We are stopping half way sleeping and then finishing our trip home the next day. Already all planned out, no big deal.

Now the painting, why are we painting? We were told we are responsible for it. We were told either we do it or we pay to have it done. Our friends have paid between $250-$600 to have this done in the past. Well we are building a house right now and are about to face a pay cut for an undetermined amount of time because of Chaz's separation from service so we need to save money where ever we can. So Chaz is painting while I am packing. He's done a great job for a guy who hates painting. And it's just touch up painting. Luckily our building was nice enough to get the paint for us.

Last night I was resting after our busy day because my back hurt. I realized this is the fourth time I have moved my family with little to no help in less than two years. I moved us out of the hospital, thank goodness I had a squad leader to push the cart I had loaded. (That's sarcasm by the way, he was a total jerk about the whole thing.) He actually unloaded that cart because he said it was almost three and they were leaving for the day. He put all those boxes just inside of the door of the Fisher House room we had and poor Chaz couldn't get inside. After dumping the boxes off, he rushed us to WTB and passed us off to someone so he could leave. When we were done with all of that I had to move all the boxes around so Chaz could get into our room.

Next we BRAC'd so we had to move from Fisher House to Fisher House for that one. Luckily a friend who has become an even better friend really helped me with that one. She and I knocked that one out quick, like within hours. It helped that I mailed a bunch of our stuff home with the BRAC.

Then I moved us from Fisher House to apartment. Chaz's squad leader at the time actually helped me move. He was a big help. He brought his truck and we got everything in two trips. He even helped me move furniture around to help Chaz get around better and everything.

Now we move home. We did get authorized for mailing things home. That is a huge blessing. Currently I have 15 boxes to mail and plan to get more boxes today. Yes we have to get the boxes. We tried to get them from WTB but the supply guy was out of them and has to order them, so off to Home Depot I go today. Once again, no big deal here.

Our commander did call us last night. I will be the first to tell you that she is awesome. She is super sweet and has done a great job for being here for just a few months. She's our third commander and is my favorite by far. She was not thrilled to find out we were painting and moving everything and that we didn't have help. I told her this was our fourth time and she seemed shocked. I told her to enjoy her weekend and we'd talk more on Monday. 

As I had a few minutes to think last night, I realized this is total BS. I realized that our wounded deserve better. I started thinking about all the families that have gone before us. I started thinking about those who will come behind us. Then it hit me, the people assigned here to help us have no idea what all caregivers really do for our wounded. The very next minute I realized I have a wonderful husband who does and really appreciates and loves me. He sees all of my hard work and his smile, hugs and love are enough thanks for this girl. 

I realized that basically my hubby is told that they are done with him and he needs to figure it out and paint the walls as you head out. Chaz has no legs and a fused elbow. He can't help me. The girls can only help me so much before they could get hurt. Trust me though, Chaz and the girls are very helpful, but trying to juggle all the paperwork Chaz has to do and all the moving we have to do is overwhelming. Then knowing you have less than a week to finish it all is just insane. The military tells these guys what they have to do to get out of here, but so much of it falls on the caregiver to get it finished. How crazy is that?

In my situation, I stopped receiving NMA (non-medical attendant) pay a year ago. Another wife decided it wasn't fair that I was able to keep my business and be an NMA, so she whined to WTB. WTB called me in to tell me I had to chose between my job and NMA pay. I laughed and told WTB to keep their money. A piece of paper and $71 per day, that I am legally entitled to, doesn't make me a caregiver and will have no barring on what I do for my family.

Something tells me the commander has her eyes open now and we'll get out of here with no problems. She and I are a lot alike. She and I get things done while shaking our head at the ridiculousness of it. I really feel like I can leave here because she and a few others are here taking care of these families.

At the end of the day, my back hurt from the moving. My heart hurt from thinking about the others. My brain hurts from the overload of BS we have to shovel through. I do believe our wounded deserve a few breaks and helping them move home is one of them. I will throw a moving party and get our stuff squared away. In the meantime, I am going to start working on how to help the families who come behind me. They might not have enough able bodied friends here to help them move and it is our responsibility to get them safely to their new normal.

Monday, January 7, 2013

A Great Day at the Office.....

I am truly blessed to have a really great job. Every once in a while I get to have great days at the "office." You see, I don't really have an office. Yellow Ribbon Fund has an office and I have a desk in it, but my co-workers will tell you I am rarely there. I am always out and about meeting with families, hosting events and things along those lines.

A few weeks ago our cuties asked me for one last DC American Girl Store trip. I needed a kid's event for my YRF calendar. I thought what the heck, maybe I could work a YRF/American Girl event together. I called the American Girl 1800 number and they connected me to the DC store. Once I told the DC store what I wanted to do, they got on it. Our contacts and have been so extremely helpful. I promise you they were as excited to set this all up as the girls were on the receiving end today.

We have a big problem finding events for little girls here. The boys have it made. The hockey, baseball, basketball and football teams are always there to welcome those who are into sports. However the really girly things have to be sought out and I enjoy challenges.So there you go...

I like to go big or go home, so I recruited a few friends to help. The Aleethia Foundation, Operation Second Chance and Operation Ward 57 all happily joined in to help me make this day amazing for the girls. We provided American Girl with a budget and they made today a day this girls will not forget any time soon.

We all arrived before our noon reservation. We were escorted back to the personal shopping room and each girl was given their own Saige doll. She is the 2013 Girl of the Year. They were ecstatic.Their faces say it all. You can just see all of their excitement.
With our dolls in tow, we ventured to our seats in the bistro. As we waited for our food, our cuties were able to do some Saige themed activities. As you can see their dolls were able to join them at the table.

We enjoyed our lunch which included a yummy appetizer, entree and dessert. Here's some of the food. Isn't it cute?!

After lunch the cuties' dolls were treated to a little salon time. They each got to have their doll's hair styled. Here they are showing off the dolls' new do's.
Last the staff took our cuties on a tour of the store. I am not sure if the girls heard one word that Katie, our tour guide, said because they were too excited as this point. It was girly girl overload and it was fabulous!

Days like today remind me why I love my job with YRF so much. Putting a smile on a child, is such a great gift to receive. Hearing a 4 year old tell you, "Thank you so very much." Getting a text and being told it was the best event that they have ever attended. Having cuties insist on giving you a big hug before they leave because you made them feel special that day. Having great people from other non-profits love teaming up with you so together you do more for our littlest warriors. Yup, those are great reasons to love your job! Or as I put it, it's just another great day at the office! ;)

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

The Excitement of a New Year

I woke up knowing this will be a great year. I already know some of what God has in store for us and I cannot wait to share it all with you. And trust me it's some great stuff!! ;) Then in the next thought, I am so thankful that it is spread out over the course of the year. When I think about all of it, I get beyond overwhelmed and want to stick my head in the sand for taking on so much. Then comes the realization, if not me, then who?

Tomorrow we drive back to MD to complete the active duty chapter of this journey. It is scary and exciting. I am scared we are going to mess up the paperwork. I am scared of leaving the bubble we have lived in for almost 2 years. I guess you can say I am a little worried about leaving the nest. This feels like graduation all over again. I remember this nervous excitement from years ago and I am ready to fly! I have learned Chaz and I are an amazing team and we can handle anything together.

Within 20 days, our Active Duty Army lives will close and my husband will be a 33 year old retiree. That sounds crazy, but I am so thankful he will get to enjoy some calm. For over a decade, he has trained to go to war and fight for his life. This month we say good-bye to all of that. We say hello to the longest chapter of our journey in the new normal. Our girls don't have to have anymore count down chains. No more "Happy Everything" parties when Daddy comes home for R&R. No more where is Daddy again talks. No more why does he have to leave again talks. There are a few things I'll miss about Active Duty, but we are ready. We are ready to be civilians.

We are thankful to the Army. We have had a great Army life. I have some great forever friends and some amazing wounded warrior friends. All of which we would not have if it wasn't for the Army. We have learned some important lessons that will have made us great parents and better citizens. We are ready to take this back into a small town and give our girls the life they deserve. We know God is not finished with us and we are ready for what he has in store for our family.

So here's hoping your 2013 will be as amazing as ours! Happy New Year!