Fair warning: Life is hard and my heart is raw at the moment.
I’ve been through more than my share of trauma in this life. There were seasons when I thought the constant trauma would never end. One of those very long seasons led to divorce. I found myself hiding in the guest room and realizing that the fear of being alone was much smaller than the fear of living another day in the daily trauma I was experiencing. I did not want my children to think anything about the horrors they were witnessing was okay and I wanted them to be assured that it was okay to walk away from something that was destroying you, no matter how much of your life you’d given to it. So I said I was done. After being gone in every manner, but physical for several years, he physically left.
On the day that I knew it was over, my counselor gave me some warnings. She knew the history and she tried to prepare me that he would try to turn our kids against me and that he would do everything he could to leave me destitute. She knew.
I am a survivor. All that trauma made me extremely resilient. I am not destitute. My kids and my relationships with each of them is a mess.
The one thing I didn’t fully prepare myself for is how badly my kids would hurt when a new woman came into their lives. Nor was I prepared to be the one to catch the brunt of their pain. And I certainly wasn’t prepared with a proper response.
My not so little baby girl is hurting badly. She may be 18, but developmentally she’s 10. After trying to process a new person sleeping in her Tata’s bed, she started facetiming me and telling me she was going to run away from his house. She “doesn’t want a new Mama”. She’s been begging me for weeks to “go on a date with Tata” and I knew something was bothering her. Today it all came spilling out with multiple threats to run away. If you’ve followed for a while you know those threats are not to be taken lightly. Search and rescue has been deployed to find her nine times, in two states. Those were the times we called for help. She’s attempted to run away more times than I can count.
So I took today’s threats seriously and started trying to reach her Dad. Although court-ordered not to do so, he had my number blocked. I called my 22 year old who was at their house. Now he’s mad at me for putting him in the middle. In hindsight I probably should’ve just called the police and driven to his house. But I didn’t. I wasn’t prepared. I’m human and I’m a protective Mama.
I have refrained from sharing gory details of the last few years because they’re really ugly. But, I repeatedly have had others going through their own hell contact me and ask me how I’ve dealt with things. I wish I had some great wisdom to offer, but the truth is that I have failed repeatedly to do whatever it is that my kids need me to do and I’ve often reacted out of fear, anger, pain, or some other ugly emotion.
What I can offer to those walking through the destruction of their families is this…
Give yourself grace.
Do the best you can at any given moment.
Keep putting one foot in front of the other.
Surround yourself with people that love you, believe in you, know your truth, and are willing to speak truth to you.
Take care of yourself.
Lean on God.
Know it’s okay on the days when you can’t take care of yourself. It’s really God’s job anyway.
Ask for help.
Let your kids know that you love them unconditionally. Even if they don’t see the truth, or lash out at you, or choose distance from you. Love them. You may be the only example they see of God the Father.
Again… Give yourself grace.
Ephesians 3:20 “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us”
When I was at LSU (GEAUX TIGERS!), I went to Delta Downs a few times with friends. I’m not a betting person, but I bet on those horse races. I had a rule then that I’ve applied to life. I’d walk through the paddock and find the horses who were restless and wearing blinders.
The rule… always bet on the ones who are restless and wearing blinders. They don’t pay attention to the way those around them are running their race. They’re just eager to run their own.
Today, for the first time in many years, I looked at the horses racing the Kentucky Derby and placed a bet. I saw a video of Mage in a paddock wearing blinders and scratching his hooves, eager to run. I watched tonight as he ran his race like he was the only horse on the track. It was beautiful!
After the win, I got to thinking about how hard it is in this day and age to run my own race without paying attention or comparing myself to those around me. I took this picture with a filter…
I don’t even know who that is and it makes me want to book an emergency appointment with a plastic surgeon. If I study that picture and start thinking that’s what I should look like, I’ll never be able to happily run the race I was created for.
Reality is, I look like this…
Hebrews 12:1 (paraphrase) Let us throw off everything that hinders us and run the race set out before us with perseverance/endurance.
Lessons learned from the derby:
Keep my blinders on. Don’t pay attention or compare my race to others, and especially not to some altered version of myself.
I’d like to thank Outkast, Soul II Soul, Ja, Biggie, and Arrested Development for yesterday’s soundtrack. And for today’s sore knees and hips. Apparently dancing around my office all day is quite a workout. 90s Hip Hop for the win on a tired Monday!
I decided to switch things up and listen to country today. Big mistake! Five minutes into my half hour drive, this comes on…
“I’m just trying to be a father Raise a daughter and a son Be a lover to their mother Everything to everyone Up and at ’em bright and early I’m all business in my suit Yeah, I’m dressed up for success From my head down to my boots”
Tears were dripping off my chin before Toby got through the words “lover to their mother”. Damn good lyrics.
You see… on this day, twenty-nine years ago, two twenty-two year old kids went to the courthouse in Baton Rouge and got a marriage license. This day was never Valentine’s Day for us. It was “Marriage License Day”.
Nine years later, in 2003, the boy I married was in Iraq when Toby Keith released American Soldier. I bought the CD the day it was released, packed up our three kids and our dog in his F-250, and drove from Columbus, Georgia to Denver, CO to spend Thanksgiving with the family I had married into. By the end of that drive the kids and I knew every lyric (we changed it to “a daughter and two sons”) and were belting it out. We were so proud of our American soldier.
And then came this morning…
No marriage license. No valentine. I am okay, but I am sad. It didn’t have to be this way. Or maybe it did. UFOs, wars, pandemics, governments and economies collapsing, AI, deep fakes, blackmail and blackmail inflation, deaths and divorces… nothing makes sense anymore. Or maybe it all makes sense. I certainly don’t have it all figured out beyond being grateful for the people and experiences that fill my days. My life is rich with both. Who knows if I could have accomplished the things I’ve accomplished in the last few years, or found the tribe of stellar humans I’m surrounded by if I was still expending every ounce of my emotional, mental, and spiritual energy fighting for my marriage… Great purpose and lots of healing aside, today is still a day when grief revisited. I am certain that four days from now, on what would have been our 29th anniversary, it will again stop by long enough for a cup of coffee or a cocktail, memories both sweet and bittersweet, and to shed a few tears.
I recently sent a diatribe of a text to someone stating that I do not have time or energy for a relationship and that I do not know if I ever want to be married again. The next day I deleted it on my end. As I typed those words I was trying to convince myself that they were my truth. The next day I realized that they weren’t. I actually loved fighting for my marriage. I just didn’t like fighting.
So yeah… today is a day when I am acutely aware that I am single. I am extremely proud of the work I’ve done to stand on my own two feet. Stepping into the skin of who God says I am and walking forward in the things He made me for has been an incredible adventure. Kaci is kind of awesome. And who knows? Maybe some day someone equally awesome will come along to be my Valentine. Meanwhile…
Dammit, Toby Keith. You made me cry.
Until grief decides to pop in again, a little wisdom from Soul II Soul…
Back to life, back to reality Back to life, back to reality Back to life, back to reality Back to the here and now, yeah
Shortly after turning 50, I woke up in a vacation house that I had rented with dear friends and watched the sun rise over the peaceful lake in the above image. I’ve watched many sunrises in the last three years. Each time the light is about to peak above the horizon, I hold my breath with anticipation. The light is coming. The darkness is ending.
Because of God’s tender mercy, the morning light from heaven is about to break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, and to guide us to the path of peace.Luke 1:78-79NLT
After 28 years of loving hard and fighting harder, my marriage ended. I grieved for my husband for several years before we were divorced. Life isn’t fair. War is ugly and damaging and the destruction doesn’t end on the battlefield. The endless wars of the world have left us with generations of damage and destruction. The wife and children of a Vietnam veteran who came home forever changed, became war casualties. With those casualties unhealed, the cycle is repeated after multiple tours in the sandbox of Iraq. War is a catalyst for the propagation of destroyed families.
I’ve sat many times with the intent to write about the pain, grief, and fear of my family falling apart. The pain was too big. The grief sometimes overwhelming, and the fear hard to define. I’ve battled shame over the failures, but I do not count our marriage as a failure. We were a great team for a very long time. Our marriage produced four amazing humans. Marriage gave us someone to grow up alongside, to learn with, grieve with, celebrate with, confide in, to share life with. For many years we chose each other day after day and valued one another enough to fight for what we had. But marriages don’t fall apart overnight. They fall apart with wounds that add up and never have a chance to heal. They fall apart when disconnection becomes the norm and distrust the baseline of interactions. They fall apart when two people who should function as one, stop fighting for each other and just start fighting each other. We had more than twenty years of success before we started failing to remember that we were on the same team. I personally failed often in pausing to think about the power of my words before they escaped my mouth and my biggest shame comes from the things I’ve said that I can never take back. Fully aware that the power of life and death are in my tongue, there were many times when my words did not speak life. And so… the life we spent decades building no longer exists. The dreams of growing old with the father of my children have died. My cold feet have no warm legs to seek at night. There is no hand to hold or arms to embrace in the difficult and ordinary moments. Plans, dreams, decisions, and responsibilities are now solely between me and God. But God…
Yes, I fear living out my life without a teammate. Yes, I fear all of the uncertainty that comes with every area of my life being redefined. Divorce is kind of like skydiving from a plane that’s on fire with a parachute that you haven’t tested. You make the jump knowing that staying in the plane will lead to certain death. You feel nothing but pressure and winds and everything feels out of control on the jump. Your parachute opens with a jolt. You spin and turn as you fall. Eventually your feet find solid ground. The thing about the landing is that the moment your feet find ground is disorienting.
a: to cause to lose bearings : displace from normal position or relationship
b: to cause to lose the sense of time, place, or identity
I’m getting my bearings, finding my place in this world, and giving thanks daily that my identity is wholly defined by my creator. I know who I am. I like me. I’m pretty sure God does too.
MANY people have asked me to share my story and the asks are usually followed with statements about others needing to know they aren’t alone. If you are living through the aftermath of war and your days are filled with grief, pain and fear; YOU ARE NOT ALONE!! Find a counselor. Find a support group. Confide in the people who love you and know you. Reach out to your clergy or the people in your Bible study. Join a Bible study. And please, do NOT be ashamed!!
Post Traumatic Stress, Secondary Traumatic Stress, Compassion Fatigue, Post Infidelity Stress, Codependency… all terms counselors have used on my healing journey. I have two kids on the autism spectrum. I have taught them that they are not defined by their labels or diagnoses and that labels are not excuses or justifications for failures or bad behavior. Labels serve the purpose of giving access to needed help and provide a paradigm to work within. In order to practice what I preach, I embrace who my Father says I am. I am not a victim. I am a victor. I’ve experienced trauma. I am not traumatized.
Y’all, I won’t lie. Knowing who I am and knowing the goodness of my God does not mean that a single step on this journey has been easy. Waiting for the parachute to open, free-falling, hoping my feet would find solid ground, and finding my bearings once I was standing, has been HARD!! I woke up to this song as my alarm daily for over a year and some days had to remind myself to breathe and put one foot in front of the other. Thankfully, I live on the water and my mindful breathing and walking has included sand under my feet. 😊🏝️
If you or someone you know is living through the destruction that far too often comes home from war, these are a few of the resources and supports that helped me survive the darkest days and get my feet back on solid ground. Please share and feel free to message me.
Ten years ago today, the entire trajectory of my life changed.
On April 25, 2010 my American Hero hubby and I signed an adoption decree, and later that day put our names on a Serbian birth certificate that declared us the parents of Sofija Bea Brave. We were scared. There were moments along the path when both of us wanted to back out and run home. But we didn’t. We honored God and the journey He had placed us on, and that my readers, has made ALL the difference.
At this moment we are living through times that will be talked about in history books. There is a global pandemic that has literally forced the entire world to STOP. Every person I know, all around the globe, is in quarantine. Like you and every other human, I have come up with a hundred different theories, and contrived a hundred different explanations for WHY God is allowing COVID-19 to shut down literally everything. This is where I’ve arrived…
I entered this time of seclusion and quarantine believing that the pandemic was an act of discipline. That God had put the entire globe in timeout in order to strip away all of our idols and force us into a time of worship. While there may be some truth to that theory, I don’t think that tells the whole story of what we’re experiencing.
The very first verse I (and most Christians) learned was John 3:16. “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only son, so that whoever believed in Him would have eternal life.” After five, or six, or however many weeks it’s been, I now believe that God allowing the world to shut down is an act of love that I can’t even wrap my head around.
In 2007 I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer that had spread into my neck bed. I had seven tumors. The largest was 4.2cm. I had two surgeries and high-dose radiation that required ten days of isolation. It’s comical now to think how special I felt that God chose ME to spend ten days in isolation with. But honestly, that’s exactly how I see it. God loved me SO MUCH that he allowed me to have cancer so that He could get me alone with Him to heal my broken pieces and prepare me for all that was to come with the obedience of adopting my baby girl.
Right now, God is showing the entire world just how much He loves every single human being. You can sit all day discussing politics and conspiracy theories and Constitutional violations… OR you can stop, enjoy this time with your Father, and ask Him what He wants to put back together in you and what He’s preparing you for as the world emerges from this lockdown.
For me, I got to hear that I was cancer-free on June 18, 2009. Ten months later I was in Serbia adopting the little girl that would change everything, about every day, from that point forward.
Psalm 119:105 Your word is a lamp to guide my feet and a light for my path.
When our kids were younger we camped a lot. This scripture came alive to me while camping. Pushing out three babies meant that for many decades years I couldn’t sleep through the night without a bathroom trip. On camping trips I often found myself in the dark of night, trying to navigate my way to an appropriate place to relieve my bladder with nothing but a flashlight to guide my path. No matter how strong of a flashlight I carried, I could never see the entire path ahead or everything that was making noises in the dark around me. That is exactly what Psalm 119:105 promises us. God’s Word will always show us the step that is right in front of us. He doesn’t promise to show us the entire path ahead or what is happening all around us. He only promises to show us our next step.
Adopting Sofija has led me down a path that I never could have dreamed of. I won’t bore you with details, but that one act of obedience, the one illuminated step on a dark and scary path, led to the next illuminated step, and the next, and the next. And here I am, on April 25, 2020, trying to wrap my head around the path God has taken our family down.
In the last 48 hours, my fifteen year old, almost six feet tall bundle of sass, has said repeatedly, “Stop talking to me!”, “Get away from me.” and “I need a vacation from this house!” She’s cried countless times over the last six weeks as she declared, “I miss people!” As I suspect most fifteen year old girls would do, when I respond with, “Let’s ask God what He wants to heal right now and what He’s preparing us for, she goes back to… “Stop talking to me.” But I’m okay with that. She’s identifying that this time at home is challenging and affirming her boundaries better than many adults I know. She has said several times this week, “I want to go live with other people.” I usually reply empathetically with, “Me too, Baby. Me too.”
I’ll be honest. There have been moments during the quarantine when I’ve felt guilty about the fact that I’ve never been more at peace or filled with more anticipation about the next steps God is lighting up on my path. There have also been moments when I’ve laid on my bedroom floor until I had to find a tissue to clean my snot and tears. Do I “need a vacation from this house”? Yep. At moments I feel completely claustrophobic. Do I “miss people”? Ummm…Yes! I’m 98% E on the Myers Briggs test. I’m sooo grateful that God chose me to be the Mama of a girl who needs people as much as I do. She gets me.
This time is hard and has everyone on a rollercoaster of emotions. Whatever you’re feeling is okay. But from someone who has been through a forced isolation and came out of it with healing, freedom, and a usually well-lit path, I highly encourage you to take some time during this period to ask God what He wants to heal in you right now. What is He asking you to lay down? What is He preparing you for? He never promised any of us the big picture or all the answers. He did promise us that He would always light up the next step on our path. And man, how grateful I am that ten years ago the step He lit in front of me looked like this…
Isaiah 50:7 But the sovereign Lord helps me, so I am not humiliated. For that reason I am steadfastly resolved; I know I will not be put to shame.
This verse has been a sermon I’ve metaphorically preached from a mountaintop to others struggling with guilt and shame. What I’ve repeatedly said is that neither come from God. God (or more precisely the Holy Spirit) gives conviction and discernment, when we are doing something wrong. Discernment is the gut-check that provides a base to our moral compass and helps us know when we’re about to stray from a path of righteousness. It is NOT guilt. Conviction is a gut-check we feel when we’ve already made a bad choice. It’s the needle on that moral compass that tells us we’re now facing the wrong direction and we need to repent for the direction we’re facing. Conviction is NOT shame. Shame is embarrassment of the things we’ve done or the circumstances we find ourselves in. The root of shame is always either a refusal to repent and accept grace, or… pride.
Here’s the thing about making something the topic of a sermon that you repeatedly preach from a mountaintop, your words have no credibility unless you practice what you preach. A woman can’t lead others on a path to freedom from shame when she is hiding in shame from the circumstances of her own life.
On the first day of this year I shared that God had made it very clear that my theme for 2019 would be “grace”. In that post I revealed that having to make that word the underlying theme for an entire year scared the hell out of me. I knew that God putting it in my face everywhere I looked meant that I was either going to need a lot of it or need to give a lot of it. Needing to give a lot of grace meant that I would hurt and, I don’t know about you, but I can’t remember a single time when I’ve woken up thinking, “Man, I hope I get hurt today so I can exercise giving grace.”
My favorite book of the Bible is James. First off he just tells it like it is. His book is basically the cliff notes of all of Jesus’ sermons. It’s Christianity for dummies. And since he grew up in the same house with little boy Jesus I’m guessing that he had a better understanding of who Jesus was and what it meant to follow him than any other author of the New Testament. Here’s the thing about the book of James… you can’t read it without getting through verses 2 and 4 of chapter 1… My brothers and sisters, consider it nothing but joy when you fall into all sorts of trials, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its full effect so that you will be mature and lacking in nothing.
Joy… “consider it nothing but joy when you fall into all sorts of trials…” Maybe someone else has found a way for joy and shame to coexist, but I have not. This year has brought with it the biggest marriage trials we’ve ever faced. Instead of considering the trials joy, I have hidden in shame. It’s time to take my joy back. It’s time to lay down my pride.
At the very end of 2018 I received a partial answer to a question that had been unanswered for a year and a half. I entered this new year, the time that should be filled with hope and anticipation, filled with ominous dread. The rest of the answer to that one question was coming, along with jolting revelations that have only led to more questions and often more partial answers. Grace-giving has unquestionably been the overriding theme of my year.
And so, here I am, nearing the end of the year, unable to count the number of days and evenings that I’ve spent face-down on my bedroom floor with my face covered in snot and tears as I have cried out to God for comfort. I have hidden in shame as I have wondered how we got here. I never imagined that there would be a day when I would question whether or not I could handle the pain I was experiencing in my marriage for one. more. day. Life has dealt me pain and trials. My own choices have dealt me pain and trials. There is no trial I’ve ever walked through that prepared me to choose joy when security, safety, and unconditional love morph into insecurity, fear, and indifference. Every single time my amygdala takes over and tells me to “RUN!”, God reminds me of grace. Only He knows how much of it I’ve needed and how undeserving I’ve been of it. He also reminds me of how He pursued me no matter how hard or fast I ran from Him. And then I remember that the entire purpose of marriage is to model Jesus to our spouse. Lay down your life. Love unconditionally. Give undeserved grace.
Aside from the things God reminds me of, there are several things I know are certain. I know that God is good and He is true to His Word. I know that continuing to have faith in His goodness and trustworthiness produces endurance. And I know that endurance is the path to maturity and wisdom. I also know that hurt people hurt people. If you’re not yet married, I highly encourage you to work through your childhood trauma and lay down your baggage before you commit to love and honor another for the rest of your life. If you are married and you’ve experienced trauma since you made that commitment, run (don’t walk) to a counselor and start working towards healing. Unfortunately, it doesn’t matter how tightly we try to seal the baggage we stuff our unhealed wounds into, they will eventually spill out on the people standing by our sides.
We live on a tiny little island that is positioned between Tampa Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. From one end of our back porch I can see the sun as it rises over the bay. From the other end, I can watch it set over the gulf. Both the setting and the rising are breathtaking. But there is something that often happens in between that will capture my attention and sometimes bring me to tears with the power displayed. Tampa is often referred to as “The Lightning Capital of the World”. The lightning storms here will often last for hours. They are sometimes loud and booming, and sometimes completely silent. But they are always filled with awe-inspiring strike after strike that light up the darkness, and for a moment charge my body with an uncomfortable mixture of anxiety and excitement.
The jolting, and the anxiety, and the excitement, are all my story at the moment. Oh, but the sun…. it ALWAYS rises. JOY!!
On February 18, 1989 I met this cute boy in Washington, DC that had one dream… to be a soldier. Six days later he declared that he wanted me by his side as he lived out that dream. Five years later we were married. From that point forward just about every detail of our lives was defined by the US Army and my husband’s commitment to defend the Constitution and promote freedom.
For more than a quarter of a century he served America. That service came at a huge cost to our family and his health. Our 8th wedding anniversary was the first one we spent together. It was our 12th year of marriage before we could say that we’d spent more time together than apart. Our children celebrated birthdays and holidays, played sports, performed in all types of recitals, received awards, and traversed life without their Dad there to cheer them on. While the kids and I attended weddings, funerals, family celebrations, dealt with surgeries, sickness (including cancer), and often moved and settled into new homes and cities without him; he celebrated holidays, birthdays and promotions alone and sometimes in the middle of war zones. On countless occasions he helplessly listened to us cry over whatever hard thing was happening at home, or excitedly tell him about something amazing that he had missed, only to have the conversations cut short because he was under attack or the satellite phone or laptop he was on lost its signal.
My husband’s willingness to lay down his life for you and I, meant that he spent months and years disconnected from everything that he loved and that he was fighting for. It meant repeatedly starting over and learning new “normals” after deployments as our family adjusted to the impacts that war had on his body and mind. It meant that each member of our family has had to learn exactly what it means to come to the end of ourselves and be completely dependent on God’s strength to carry us. Isaiah 40:29He gives power to the weakand strength to the powerless. Psalm 28:7 The Lord is my strength and shield. I trust him with all my heart. He helps me, and my heart is filled with joy. My husband’s service still means that he has to fight every day through pain, for his physical and mental health to be restored as much as God will restore it.
But… he would do it all again. WE would do it all again. Because…
Galatians 5:13 For you have been called to live in freedom, my brothers and sisters. But don’t use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature. Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love.
John 15:13 There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.
There are so many veterans that have served this nation with a willingness to lay down their life, but only one is mine. LTC (Ret) Chad Anthony Calvaresi, thank you for your service.
If you know anyone that has served, please take the time today to thank them for their service.
I would love to tell you that my family or my faith are my biggest motivators in life, but that would be dishonest. What drives me to learn, grow, or accomplish just about anything is this… curiosity.
In the last several months I have heard/read several people refer to themselves as “sinners”. Each time I’ve heard or read a Christian identify themselves as a “sinner”, it has not set well with me. The agitation it has stirred in me made me curious. So I went to the place with all the answers… Google. I’m joking. Kind of. I actually googled “In the Bible are Christians referred to as sinners?”
Here’s what I found…
Romans 5:8 But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that WHILE WE WERE STILL sinners, Christ died for us.
2 Corinthians 5:17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a NEW creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.
And then there’s Paul’s description of his new identity in Christ and his sinful nature in Romans 7…
So, my dear brothers and sisters, this is the point: You died to the power of the law when you died with Christ. And now you are united with the one who was raised from the dead. As a result, we can produce a harvest of good deeds for God. When we were controlled by our old nature, sinful desires were at work within us, and the law aroused these evil desires that produced a harvest of sinful deeds, resulting in death. But now we have been released from the law, for we died to it and are no longer captive to its power. Now we can serve God, not in the old way of obeying the letter of the law, but in the new way of living in the Spirit.
I still don’t have it all figured out and my curiosity is still piqued so I will keep seeking answers. What I have learned thus far is that there is not a single place in scripture where Jesus refers to His followers as “sinners”. In fact, the only place in the New Testament where a believer comes close to being called a “sinner” is later in Romans 7 and in 1 Timothy 1:15 when Paul refers to himself as a “wretched man” and the “foremost of sinners”. To be clear, Paul was referring to who he was before he followed Christ.
The one conclusion I have drawn thus far is that “sinner” is not my name.
Depending on which email or social media account I am using, I do have a few titles in my signature block…
King’s Daughter, American Hero’s Wife, World Changers’ Mom,
This year I became the CEO of Akacia Solutions, a federal contracting company that my husband and I own (hence my lack of blogging). I spent last week in DC wearing my CEO hat.
This year I also joined the board of Centar Zvezda, the organization I’ve written about before that is providing housing and holistic care for youth who age out of orphan-care in Eastern Europe. On Monday I fly to Chiang Mai, Thailand where I’ve been invited to participate in the WWO Global Forum on Orphan-care. My friend (the founder of Centar Zvezda) Tatjana Dražilović will meet me there. I am ridiculously excited to return to Thailand for the first time in almost twenty years, but I am MORE excited to spend a few days surrounded by people from all over the world who share my passion and calling to place orphans in families and set captives free.
There are countless ways to do your part living out the Biblical mandate to care for orphans. If you need some ideas, I’ve written a few times on the topic hereherehere and here. In addition to those suggestions, you are MORE THAN welcome to join me in caring for youth who did not find a family before aging out. Centar Zvezda has houses for the residents outside of Belgrade, but our youth in Belgrade are currently crammed into an apartment. We would like to expand our capacity for care and we have a vision to build an entire housing complex where our youth will live alongside other college students. While we are waiting for the means to make the vision a reality, we have found a house that would make it possible to accept more youth. We have some of the money needed to purchase the house, but we need more. If you would like to support us, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will send you a link for donations.
Trigger warning: My heart is a little raw and exposed right now and I’m going to go some place I haven’t publicly gone before. I belong to a support group for spouses of veterans with PTSD and TBI and I keep finding just how painful and isolating it can be to love someone who has been changed by war. And because of 2 Corinthians 1:4, I know that God wants to use every moment of pain that we experience in life to comfort others. He can’t use what we aren’t willing to expose.
In February of 1994 I walked down an aisle and said, “I do” to a US Army second lieutenant. I am not a military brat. I did not grow up in a military town. I had family members who were veterans of various wars, but I never really paid attention to how war defined them or impacted their relationships. I knew that I loved him and that he had the most beautiful heart and soul of any man I had ever known. I knew that he would make beautiful babies and that he’d father them well. I could see us with wrinkles and gray hair, rocking together on a porch as we watched our grandchildren play. I knew that this was a man that I was willing to follow anywhere in the world and that I could feel safe giving him my whole heart all the days of my life.
What I did not fully grasp when I said, “I do” is that I was not only pledging my devotion to the man God made for me, but to the US Army. I very quickly learned to accept that his duty would always come before anything else in life, including me. For the first decade of our marriage I was perfectly okay with that reality. His devotion to freedom and service to our nation made me immensely proud.
After September 11th I watched him chomp at the bit to go to war. He voluntarily went to military school at fourteen, went to a military college, and all he’d ever wanted to be was a soldier. He had dreamed of and trained for combat his entire life. And because I love him with all that I am I wanted to see him fulfill the purpose he believed he was created for.
In August of 2003 I stood in an airport bursting with pride and with my heart shattered into a thousand pieces as I watched the love of my life walk away without knowing if I’d ever see him again.
In 2004 he returned to me. Except he didn’t. I quickly realized that the man I watched leave for war was not the man who’d come home. The guy who had always loved to go and do, never met a stranger, was kind to every human he crossed paths with, and who had never once shown me anything other than kindness and unconditional love, had changed.
In the years that followed his first deployment, he adjusted, we adjusted, God was faithful to heal and restore. By the time he called me in January of 2009 to say he was returning to Baghdad ten days later, I had almost forgotten…
During the second deployment we talked a lot more about the possible changes we could face, we talked about the coming readjustment period, I studied combat trauma and how to best love someone who’s experienced it, I prepared my heart for the possibility of loving a changed man for a period of time with the full hope that in a short time he would be fully restored. And honestly, for the most part (I don’t want to talk about his driving), it seemed as though we’d lucked out the second time around. He still wanted to sit in a place where he could see every door, but he was able to eat at restaurants and attend church and the kids’ activities immediately after he returned home. He was extremely kind and compassionate to me, didn’t look for ways (many veterans use video games, television, alcohol, and other unhealthy vices…) to escape daily life and was able to empathize with others.
And then, in May of 2010, just after we brought our daughter home from Serbia, he was triggered. He walked in the door after work and she slapped him across his face. She then turned and attacked me. I held her until she was calm and did not notice the expression on his face as he walked away from us. When she was occupied I went to him seeking comfort. Instead of comfort I was met with a harsh, “I don’t care about your feelings!” and his hands held out in front of him preventing me from getting near him. I was shocked, wounded, and devastated by what had come from his mouth.
I’ve written extensively about Sofija’s aggressive, self-injurious, and destructive behaviors. In the first weeks and months after bringing her home we had no clue what triggered her, but I quickly figured out that her PTSD triggered his PTSD, and it did not take long for everyone in our house to be traumatized. In family counseling we were able to identify that the feelings of helplessness surrounding her behavior outbursts not only triggered war trauma, but childhood trauma. I have learned so much about the brain in the years since that painful day in 2010. We learned later that year that our daughter has abnormalities in her temporal lobe; specifically her temporal horns, hippocampus, and amygdala. Two years later we learned that my husband (thanks to some bad guys and an IED) has a TBI in his frontal lobe and amygdala. If you’re curious about what that means, the parts of their brains that control memories and behaviors, produce rational thoughts, and trigger fear responses, have stored memories of traumatic experiences that make them respond as if they are in danger or threatened by things that are not normally threatening. For Sofija, she gets stuck in fight, flight, or freeze. EEGs have shown that when her fear response is triggered, the rest of her brain stops functioning and we have to use grounding techniques (What color shirt am I wearing? How many fingers am I holding up? What day is it?) to help her frontal lobe (rational thought) take action to calm her down.
My husband’s PTSD looks a little different from Sofija’s. What I’ve learned about most combat veterans is that because of military training, their brains tell them not to flee or freeze, but to fight when they feel threatened or out of control. I have yet to meet a spouse of a veteran that isn’t frightened by their wounded warrior’s driving habits. Combat has taught them that every person in a vehicle is a threat. Things as simple as asking a veteran to put the dishes away differently, can feel threatening and trigger their fear response. Because God, in His infinite wisdom, prewired our brains to be compatible with one another, I’ve learned that my own fear response is almost always flight. I’m not a fighter and when I feel threatened I find a quick way to escape. This tendency means that I’m able to walk away and wait for my husband’s frontal lobe to take action and remind him of who he is. Full disclosure: my instinct to flee did not stop me in the past from sending hurt and angry texts and emails while keeping my distance. We’ve vowed this year to not write anything that we would not look each other in the eyes and say. I’ll have to update later on how that’s going. 😉
Combat was undoubtedly traumatizing for my husband. But, when he came under investigation in December of 2011 by the same Army that he’d devoted his life to serving, the trauma was almost unbearable to witness. For nearly four years, his first love, his calling, his career, his identity, the things that had come before everything else in his life, were threatened. The days where he was able to see beyond the need to defend himself were few and far between. It was like being in combat for four straight years, day and night, without reprieve.
I’m shining light into this corner of our lives for a few reasons.
First, I don’t want anyone living with a wounded veteran to feel shame, isolation, or hopelessness. YOU ARE NOT ALONE! John 10:10 The thief’s (Satan’s) purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My (Jesus) purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life. I have witnessed far too many individuals and families destroyed because of war. Jesus did NOT live and die and rise again for people to be destroyed. He lived, and died, and rose from the dead, so that the damaged and dead parts of our lives could be resurrected, restored, and redeemed. 1John 1:5-7This is the message we heard from Jesus and now declare to you: God is light, and there is no darkness in him at all. So we are lying if we say we have fellowship with God but go on living in spiritual darkness; we are not practicing the truth. But if we are living in the light, as God is in the light, then we have fellowship with each other, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from all sin. If you feel like you’re living in darkness, please find some support. See a counselor, join a support group, find a friend or two who will listen and encourage you. There is not a single instance in scripture of Jesus sending a disciple out to perform miracles alone because God never intended for us to fight our battles alone. Second, it has been almost three years since my veteran retired and lost his first love. This new chapter has been beautiful and fulfilling in ways we never imagined. It has also brought about unexpected challenges, grief, and exposed many layers of unhealed pain and wounds. We are working hard to heal those wounds and better cope with the challenges. So if you have a moment, feel free to pray for us to embrace all of the restoration and redemption that God has promised us.
I want to offer some encouragement and tips to those spouses who are currently in the trenches. First and foremost, if you or your children are being abused, please please please get help! If you don’t have a safe place to go, call 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or go HERE and chat with someone who will help you find a safe place. If your spouse is suicidal, call 1-800-273-8255 (press 1) or go HERE to chat with someone who can help you develop a plan. If you need marriage counseling, family counseling, or individual counseling for anyone in your family, Military One Source offers it for free. If your veteran struggles to work and manage money, Military One Source also has resources to help with finances. If you are feeling alone in your battle and don’t have any idea where to turn, THIS is a great website packed full of links and resources. If you are dealing with the VA (God bless you!), they have a webpage for caregivers that outlines all of the resources available to you. https://www.caregiver.va.gov/ Also, find a local church and join a small group or a Bible study. I honestly could not have survived the investigation years or the years after our first deployment without a community of Christians who loved me, listened to me, spoke truth to me, and lifted me up when I couldn’t stand on my own two feet.
Also, no amount of trauma is an excuse for bad behavior. If your veteran is making bad choices, this is your permission slip to stop excusing the bad behavior because of a diagnosis. I’ve experienced a ridiculous amount of trauma in my life. But guess what… I’m still responsible for every choice that I make. If I screw up, I’m accountable for it. So are you. So is your spouse. We will all stand before God some day and answer for every unrepented sin we’ve chosen to commit. Nowhere in scripture does it say that a diagnosis of PTSD or TBI will get us out of accountability. Also, you will NOT stand before God and answer for your spouse’s choices. It is REALLY easy for those of us living with veterans or parenting children with disabilities to make excuses and apologize for their behaviors. If you find that you are rearranging your life to keep your spouse from being triggered and apologizing for their behaviors, I’m giving you permission to STOP IT! In psychology those patterns are called enablement and codependency. Scroll back up and read what the Bible says in John 10:10. You were meant to live a satisfying life! If you can identify a pattern in your life of apologizing for the behaviors of others or you struggle with caring for yourself, get THIS BOOK now! And when you’re done with that one, I can highly recommend THIS ONE. Also, learn the phrase, “I am not getting on this emotional roller coaster with you. Enjoy your ride and I’ll meet you back at the platform.”
Whether or not you give up on the person you chose to spend your life with is a choice. I firmly believe that 99% of success in marriage is the refusal to quit. On January 1st I wrote a post explaining that as much as I didn’t want it to be, my word/theme for this year is “Grace”. Alas, I should have known that it would be tested over and over again. But… 2 Corinthians 12:9TPT But he answered me, “My grace is always more than enough for you, and my power finds its full expression through your weakness.” So I will celebrate my weaknesses, for when I’m weak I sense more deeply the mighty power of Christ living in me.” God only knows how much grace I’ve needed in life and how much more I will need this side of heaven. But He promises that His grace is ALWAYS more than enough for me. And if He’s got more than enough grace for my brokenness, then I trust that He will always give me more than enough for the brokenness of others. The moments when I want to call it quits are always the moments when I forget about grace.
Hebrews 4:16 So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most.
Last, but certainly not least, I encourage you to seek God in navigating the journey of loving a veteran. I had a great heart-to-heart talk with my nineteen year old yesterday about something that’s been weighing him down. I told him that I wished I could fix it for him, but I can’t. And then I told him that it’s not his to fix. It’s God’s. I learned many years ago that the only way I could have peace and let go of the need to make other people’s problems my own is this… Every time something heavy pops in my head that is out of my control to fix, I say, “God, I give this to you. It was yours before I tried to make it mine. Thank you for holding my heart, renewing my thoughts, and fulfilling your promises. Amen.” There have been situations in my life where I’ve prayed that prayer at least a dozen times every hour until I felt free from the burden and truly trusted that God was in control. Give your spouse to God. Trust me. He’s MUCH better equipped to restore, renew, redeem, and heal than any of us are.
I don’t usually write anything in all caps. I’ve been working hard to not be a screamer. BUT, Y’ALL!! Today marks TEN YEARS since the day I got to hear the words, “You’re cancer-free.”
The minute I got the call from my doctor I sent a message to everyone I could think of saying, “I’m cancer free! All glory to God forever!” I knew at that moment that everything in my world had shifted. I mistakenly thought it had all shifted for the good and that the rest of my life would be smooth sailing.
That phone call took more than two years to receive from the moment I received my cancer diagnosis. In those two years of waiting God exposed wounds in me that were long buried and forgotten and forced me to deal with pains that I had been shoving under a tight lid for most of my life. Okay, He didn’t force me. I had a choice. But I also knew that I wasn’t ready to die and that I no longer wanted to hold on to anything that was causing unhealth in my body. And, if I was going to die, I wanted to experience peace and freedom on this side of heaven.
What I wasn’t prepared for was the grief to come. Anyone who has ever had any kind of cancer will tell you that the four words they hate most in the English vocabulary are, “Because of your history…”. Every single time I go to the doctor for anything, I hear those words. Anything in my body that is the least bit sick has become a reason for doctors to run more tests and explore the possibilities that I have a cancer recurrence. Every time I hear those words I am reminded that cancer may have given me freedom and healing, but it also took away so much. I no longer have the confidence that a cough is just a cough, an upset stomach is just an upset stomach, a headache is just a headache, or that every ache and pain are just the price of being 48 years old. I no longer have the amazing metabolism that allowed me to eat pizza for dinner and ice cream before bed without working out for two hours the morning after. I also no longer have a tolerance for toxicity or the ability to be anything other than transparent and vulnerable.
I wrote several years ago about what cancer taught me, but I left out how I’ve come to embrace transparency and vulnerability. If you know me IRL or you’ve read my blog for any amount of time those qualities may be obvious to you. What may not be obvious is WHY I can’t be anything other than transparent and vulnerable.
There’s just no point in even trying. Those words above were spoken by Jesus. In the next verse He said, “So pay attention to how you hear. To those who listen to my teaching, more understanding will be given. But for those who are not listening, even what they think they understand will be taken away from them.” I don’t know about any of you, but my perimenopausal brain simply can’t afford to lose what little I understand. I want to spend the rest of my days hearing from God and understanding more about who He is and how He loves me. Also, I firmly believe that all that I’d held on to grew in my neck in the form of cancer and that’s a battle I’d prefer not to fight again.
It would be a lie to say that I’ve accomplished all I had hoped to accomplish in these last ten years, or that I’ve achieved complete spiritual/emotional healing and freedom, or that I believe I’ve fulfilled every purposeful opportunity that God laid before me. This morning I cried and repented for not accomplishing more for Him in the days, weeks, months, and years that He’s given me. But guess what? Certainly the faithful love of the Lord hasn’t ended; certainly God’s compassion isn’t through!They are renewed every morning. Great is your faithfulness.Lamentations 3:22-23
Tomorrow I will wake up to the first day of my eleventh year of living without cancer. I will try my best to not take this life for granted. I will rest in the assurance that God’s love and mercy over me aren’t through. And I will give Him glory and praise Him for His great great faithfulness.