But God… possibly the most important post I’ve written.

Isaiah 61:7 NLT Instead of shame and dishonor,
you will enjoy a DOUBLE SHARE OF HONOR.
You will possess a double portion of prosperity in your land,
and EVERLASTING JOY will be yours.

 

Genesis 50:20 NLT You intended to harm me, BUT GOD intended it all for good. He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people.

 Trauma did its damnedest to destroy our family.

But God…

Last year, a family friend that is a retired Army Command Sergeant Major attended a Mighty Oaks Warrior retreat for men who’ve experienced the trauma of war. The change in him at the end of that retreat was visible. He exuded joy and freedom that I had not seen in him before. The first time I saw him after the retreat I went to my room and tearfully wrote these words in my journal…

“God, please open the door for my husband to attend one of these retreats.

Warning: The next part of this post is painfully transparent, but I believe there are families suffering silently who need hope. So I’m going to be real.

In 1994, five months before he was to begin his military career, I married the man God made for me. I quickly learned that life as an Army wife was hard. He was gone for at least six months of each of the first six years of our marriage. But when he returned from training exercises or schools, he always returned the same man he had been before leaving. I could live with that.

And then, war. chadbaghdad

His first deployment was to Baghdad from 2003-2004. It was horrific for both of us. There were numerous phone calls that ended with the sounds of gunfire or explosions with no follow-up phone calls for days to let me know that he was alive. There were long, painful, silent conversations when he relayed to me stories of friends burning while trapped in vehicles exploded by IEDs, or while he searched for words to describe a young soldier killing himself in the middle of their makeshift office.

He came home a different man. The man I married was born a smartass. The man who returned from Iraq in 2004 was an angry, bitter cynic.

And then, he went back.

In 2009, while I was battling cancer, he returned to Baghdad. The second deployment brought with it a mixed bag of emotions. I was both relieved to not deal with the just-below-the-surface-rage on a daily basis, and felt abandoned. I wanted my husband back.

During that second deployment, God worked a few miracles. Alone and battling cancer, I was forced to deal with some of my own demons and with 6200 miles between us we managed (via Skype) to work through some of our marriage wounds. At the end of the deployment I was cancer-free and our marriage was secret-free. But something was still broken.

And then, December 5, 2011… a military contractor set out to destroy my husband’s career. The trauma of war was minuscule compared to the trauma of having his character and identity as a soldier attacked.

For three years, ten months, and ten days, we lived through hell on earth.

During that first year I hid my husband’s weapons and ammunition (in separate places) and knew that I’d been wise in doing so when he exploded over not being able to find them.

There were more ugly moments in our home than I could possibly recall. Words spoken, like, “We’d all be better off if I’d died in Iraq.” And replies like, “You did.” or “You’re right.” Moments where I begged him to leave or tried to figure out where I could go with all four kids. Our kids learned to stay out-of-the-way on the days when we weren’t speaking to one another and I made myself and our children crazy trying to control every aspect of things happening in our home with the hope that something I did would bring my husband peace and joy.

But God…

A couple months ago my husband forwarded an email to me letting me know that he was confirmed for a Mighty Oaks retreat. God had opened the door that I prayed for.

And because God likes to put exclamation points on things: You see that guy sitting just a few feet behind my hot hubby? Typic
That’s the contractor who set out to destroy my husband’s career. I took this at the Mighty Oaks graduation/fundraising gala. We have no clue what led him there. I watched all night to see if he interacted with anyone, unsuccessfully trying to figure out what his connection was to the gala. All I know is that out of the millions of people in the DC area, God put him in a crowd of a couple hundred people in a church in Manassas, VA, on a Friday night and led him to donate money to the organization that helped my husband get his life back. I just kept imagining God holding his belly and laughing so hard He could barely breathe.

You see… God is a big fan of justice. He not only restores what’s been taken from us, He occasionally gets those who’ve stolen from us to pay for the restoration.

This was my husband’s Facebook post yesterday. IMG_4912

I have my husband back. Actually, I have a better version of my husband than I ever dreamed of. Jesus saved his soul. Mighty Oaks saved his life.

Social media is flooded right now with the hashtag #kill22. People are challenged to do twenty-two pushups for twenty-two days and share videos of their pushups on social media to bring awareness to the average twenty-two veterans a day that commit suicide. While it’s a nice gesture for awareness, I’m not a fan of “awareness” trends. I think G.I. Joe got it wrong. Knowing is NOT half the battle. Knowledge without action = Nothing. Pushups aren’t saving veterans’ lives, but Mighty Oaks Warrior Programs is.

To date, nine hundred and nine veterans have graduated from the program. Not one of them has taken their own life. However, four men have taken their lives while waiting for a spot in one of the programs. There are currently three hundred veterans on the waitlist to attend a program. It costs $1000 to put a veteran through the program. My hope is that this post will be shared and raise enough support to eliminate the waitlist. click HERE to donate

Our veterans secure our freedom, please help secure theirs.

 

Super Sunday

After four years of being stuck, life around here is moving forward at warp speed. In the last two weeks, we moved to a new house in a frenzy…
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… to beat a blizzard named Jonas …

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… drove to Baltimore every other day (except the days when we were moving and snowed-in) to see this cutie patootie (who’s making amazing progress – Hooray! – and will hopefully be home next month).

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My dear hubby has been to EIGHTEEN appointments at the VA hospital in DC (hell on earth) as part of his medical retirement board. By the way, when you start the medical board process they schedule nineteen appointments over the course of forty-five days. You get no choice in when they are scheduled and if you miss or try to reschedule, you start the process over again. Several of those appointments were scheduled over the two days that we were planning to move. Because of the blizzard, the VA rescheduled the appointments and DH got to be present for the move – Hooray! Unfortunately, the appointments were all rescheduled for the last two Sunday mornings. We’ve missed our church family, but we’re extremely grateful to say that he has ONE appointment left (this Tuesday), and the evaluation part of the med board will be done. Another Hooray!

The Denver Broncos won the AFC Championship and are playing in Super Bowl 50 day… BIG, HUGE – HOORAY!!

It would’ve been fun to move to this house. 😉 broncoshouse

And in the midst of all the other stuff, I’ve had this lingering pest that I unsuccessfully kept trying to push from my thoughts.

I woke up on NYE and noticed a bulge on my neck. It hasn’t gone away. I had a neck ultrasound Tuesday and saw my doctor Thursday. It’s just an infected lymph node that’s against my carotid artery. It has healthy blood flow (the cancerous lymph nodes I had in 2009 had no blood flow). I’m relieved, but a bit traumatized.

You know why I was traumatized? Because I forgot. I forgot that I am healed. I forgot who I am. I forgot that God is in my corner and that no matter what I see or feel or experience, it is ALL working together for my good. And also maybe just a bit because I’m human and cancer sucks.

My dear, precious friend Veronica sent me a text in between the day I had the ultrasound and saw the big lymph node in my neck and the appointment with my doctor reassuring me that I am indeed still cancer-free. Veronica had no idea what I was dealing with, but she felt led to pray Ephesians 6 over me. I remembered that I had written a piece on Ephesians 6 some time ago. If you’re struggling with your own truth, if you’ve forgotten who God says you are or what He’s done for you, if you are walking through a season of big changes and struggling to remember what is constant, I urge you to click this link and read.

Philippians 4:8 And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.

Today is Superbowl Sunday and my hubby’s hometown team made it to the big game. This is true. This is right. This is lovely.

when the earth shakes…

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This week marks ten years since Hurricane Katrina forever changed the landscape of the gulf coast of America. Time for the gulf coast is now marked by “before Katrina” and “after Katrina”. The gulf coast has rebuilt, but the after is markedly different from the before.

August 12, 2015 was our family’s Katrina. We are forever changed. We will rebuild, but our after will look markedly different from our before.

Friends and family keep asking how we’re doing. We’re shaken. After Katrina it took months for power to be restored in many places. During those months, people whose homes were in the places without power were displaced, unsettled, and forced to wait on moving forward with life. That’s where we are right now. The Army hasn’t made any final decisions on when Chad will retire, or if he will do a short-term job before retirement, or whether they will let him finish the medical retirement board he began a few years ago, or if they will force us to move for his remaining time on active duty. The storm has passed. Nothing looks the same. We are without power.

But… Matthew 7:24-25 “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock…” ~ Jesus

Our family has weathered other storms. I’ve battled cancer. We’ve survived war. We’ve walked through a torrential adoption and the aftermath. We’ve been homeless. Each storm changed us. Each marked time. Each left us with a markedly different “before” and “after”.

But NO storm has the power to change our foundation. We stand on solid rock.

Four years ago we were preparing to purchase a cute little house on a great street in our neighborhood. The closing was scheduled for the morning of August 30th. One week before closing, on August 23rd, the earth literally shook. Our area was shaken by a 5.8 magnitude earthquake. If you’ve never experienced an earthquake, it is unsettling. When the windows stopped shaking and the light fixtures stopped swinging, my thoughts went to the house we were planning to purchase. The earthquake revealed cracks in the cute little house’s walls and foundation. Four days later Hurricane Irene blasted through our area. On the morning of August 28th, two days before we were scheduled to sign the closing papers, we walked through floodwaters in the cute little house and on the morning of the 30th, while removing water-damaged sheetrock, a structural engineer discovered that the entire support structure of the main floor was infested with termites. Everything we owned was sitting in a moving truck and we had no clue where we would sleep that night. But we knew we were not going to purchase the cute little house.

Our plan for the cute little house was to completely remodel it and double the square footage while we were living in it. The project would’ve taken 8-12 months to complete. We had the plans and the contractors lined up.

But God knew.

Jeremiah 29:11GWT I know the plans that I have for you, declares the LORD. They are plans for peace and not disaster, plans to give you a future filled with hope.

He knew that three months later we would enter the fire. He knew that the investigation my husband was about to walk through would leave us with zero reserve energy or patience or grace for a whole-house renovation. 

After two weeks of quasi-homelessness (friends who were traveling graciously let us stay in their home), we landed in a great rental that has been home to our family for the last four years. The house we live in was built on the foundation of a chapel that was part of a girls’ camp. The camp was built on land once owned by George Washington. This place has been our sanctuary as we’ve weathered the latest storm. And it just so happens, this house is built on solid rock.

Do you know what you stand on? Do you know what your foundation is made of? If not, I encourage you to plant your feet firmly on The Rock. Storms in life are guaranteed.

Psalm 62:5-6NLT

Let all that I am wait quietly before God,
    for my hope is in him.
He alone is my rock and my salvation,
    my fortress where I will not be shaken.

Doors

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Revelation 3:8 “I know all the things you do, and I have opened a door for you that no one can close. You have little strength, yet you obeyed my word and did not deny me.

This morning the Army prosecutor told our attorney that we would receive a letter in the mail telling us the final decision made after yesterday’s meeting. We were frustrated and disappointed that the waiting would continue. But we resolved to wait expectantly.

This morning we also busied ourselves preparing to send our oldest son off to college. He is attending LSU and this Mama’s heart is still coming to terms with the fact that he has chosen a school (my school) that is more than 1200 miles away from home. But God opened the door and I honestly could not be prouder. As we packed, and hugged, and cried, it was easy to push the thoughts of waiting on the General’s decision to the back of my mind. I had much more important things to think about. Like hugging and crying. FullSizeRender-2

In the middle of yesterday’s events, my husband signed out on leave so that he could take our son to college. The plan was for all three of my boys to be on the road just after lunch so that they could make it to Charlotte, NC in time for dinner at Nana’s house. As with everything else in our lives, the day did not go as planned. To start with, our dear Sofija hasn’t slept through the night since Saturday. That means her Tata and I haven’t slept through the night either. We’re walking zombies at this point. Adding to our slow motion delays, our precious man-child had a few things he wanted to do before leaving. Since one of those things was a date with his Mama, we obliged him.

By the time all of the packing and hugging and crying were as done as we could handle, it was after 3pm. I picked up Sofija from school and hurried back for one last hug and a few more tears. As I walked in the door I could hear my dear husband’s not-so-happy voice from the back of the house. His battalion commander (they’re the same rank) had someone in the office call and ask him to come in at 4:30pm to formally receive the final decision. After a little moaning and groaning over the inconvenience of having to put on a uniform and drive to Ft. Myer, while on leave, when he was planning to be on the road going the opposite direction several hours earlier, we stopped and prayed. As requested, he changed into his uniform and reported to his office.

It did not go as we’d hoped, but it’s over. With ZERO evidence to substantiate the claims, he has a letter stating that he was accused of conspiracy and bribery in his permanent military record. When he returns from getting our son off to college, he will request a meeting the General and ask him why, after all that transpired in yesterday’s meeting, he decided to initial the box this morning placing the letter in his permanent military record.

I have to rant for a minute. If there had been evidence to substantiate the claims he would be in prison. Conspiracy and bribery are both not only court-martial offenses under the UCMJ, but they are criminal offenses. They are NOT the kind of offenses that are handled with a letter of reprimand. But today’s Army is NOT the Army my husband pledged to serve in as a teenager. In less than two years they have to reduce the size of the Army by 40,000 soldiers. In order to cut all those soldiers, the Department of Defense has declared a War on Warriors. My husband’s career is now a casualty of that war.

The door is closed.

One specific thing that we pray repeatedly in our home is, “God, make clear the doors YOU’VE opened and keep us away from the doors you’ve closed.” God has clearly closed the door on my husband’s military career.

Ten days ago I sat around a friend’s kitchen table with a group of girlfriends. As I told them the background and caught them up on this story one of them asked, “So what are the possible outcomes?” I told her that what happened today was the worst case scenario. She then asked what my husband’s dreams are beyond the military. After I shared one of them she said, “Soooo, worst case scenario…. He has to chase his dreams.”

Life after the Army will come quickly. Chasing dreams and seeking out the doors that God has opened will replace the waiting. But the expecting will never end. Everything is being worked together for our good. God’s goodness… in the land of the living.

My heart aches for the amazing man-child I will not hug for the next few months as he launches out into this world. My heart aches for the amazingly good man I love who has put on a uniform every day since he was fourteen years old. My heart also leaps with anticipation for all that God has planned for both of them and gratitude for the fact that I’ve been entrusted to love them.

Psalm 30:5 … Weeping may remain for a night. But joy comes in the morning.

 

fire is hot.

When my kids were little, during bedtime roundup, I would often say, “Shadrach, Meshach, and ToBedYouGo!” It’s a cute saying.  But after spending some time in the footsteps of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, I no longer use it lightheartedly. Those boys walked through fire. They may not have been burned when they came out, and God may have been right there in the fire with them, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t experience the heat while they were in the furnace.

December 5, 2011 my husband returned to his job at the Pentagon after two weeks of leave. At the time he worked in a secure location where cell phones had to be left outside. An hour after leaving home he called me from his cell phone. I answered with a joking, “Why aren’t you at work?” Him – “I was fired.” Me – “Yeah, right. They can’t fire you. You’re an active duty Army officer.” Him – “I’m not joking.” He wasn’t joking.

For thirty months we scratched our heads, lost our minds, and came to the end of ourselves. We were thrown in a furnace and it was hot. onfire

My husband went to military school at age 14. He went to military college. He went straight from college to active duty and has worn a military uniform since 1985. What started in him on December 5, 2011 was the extreme version of an identity crisis. Wives, if your hubby is in the middle of losing his identity, don’t get excited and tell him that you can’t wait for God to redefine him. Just don’t. Trust me.

What started in me that day was a different kind of crisis. Although he had been escorted from the Pentagon and had all of his keys and badges taken away, he was not told what he was accused of or who had done the accusing. The only information he was given was that he had indeed been accused of something and that he was under criminal investigation.

My crisis went the way of a writer’s imagination. I married a man who loved right and hated wrong. There was no gray in his world. He was working as the acquisitions adviser to the Army’s director of intelligence when he came under investigation. The intelligence world and the government acquisitions world operate in the gray. I wish it wasn’t so, but it is what it is. My very black and white husband made quick enemies in that position and there were people who had much to gain financially by getting him (and his very loud Italian mouth) out of the office. So began my crisis.

In the first few months I wrote things in my journal like, “God, what are we going to do if he goes to prison?” I planned out what I would take with me if someone showed up and whisked us off to witness protection. I made sure our extended family knows that they are loved just in case we disappeared. I FREAKED OUT.

When the crisis eased somewhat, depression set in. We stopped doing much or interacting with many people. We weren’t sure who we could trust and we didn’t feel free to share our situation with many people. So there we were. Together. All the time. Depressed. With little hope that anything would ever be okay again. We sat on the couch. We ate too much. We watched too much tv.

I used to think my love language was quality time. I was wrong. We’ve been together almost every minute, of every day, for THIRTY MONTHS. Any married person out there who thinks they want to spend every minute of every day with your spouse, you may be right. But I would not suggest that you initiate all that togetherness in the middle of a very hot furnace. When one of you is dealing with losing an identity that you have physically worn every day since you were fourteen years old, and the other is freaking out over all the possibilities at the end of a criminal investigation, things can get downright ugly.

Somewhere around the twenty-month mark we received news that the investigation had been transferred from the Army’s Criminal Investigation Division (CID) to the Justice Department. As my husband freaked out internally and tried to keep me calm, well, I just freaked out. I’m not saying I actually did this, but I’ve heard of a woman who looked up what federal prison her husband would go to if he were to be convicted of a civilian crime by the US Department of Justice. I also heard that she calculated the distance to said prison from her home. And then looked at possible housing around said prison just in case she needed to move the kids there so that they could visit their Daddy in jail. Can you imagine? That woman must’ve had zero faith in the American justice system.

The same day that we hit the two-year mark (December 5, 2013), I received an email from an organization that provides therapeutic retreats for military families. We were chosen for one of their retreats in 2009, but we were unable to go because my hubby could not get the time off. When I opened the email, I cried. I had honestly forgotten all about the retreat, and I could not believe that God was giving us such an amazing gift at a time when we were so desperate for a little bit of hope. The icing on the getaway cake was that the organization providing the retreat was also offering to sponsor our travel to and from Colorado. And… they agreed to fly us out a few days before the retreat so that we could spend some time with my husband’s family. He grew up in Denver and many of his family members there have never met Sofija. For the first time, in a long time, we had something big to look forward to.

We planned our entire summer around that trip. Our teenagers found jobs that would allow them to take ten days off in June and we filled out the paperwork to withdraw Sofija from school a week before the end of the school year. The behavioral therapist that works with both of our stimmers began preparing them for flying and horseback riding. All the while, communication with the retreat organization was sporadic and giving me doubts as to whether or not it would actually happen.

Eleven days before we were scheduled to fly out, my husband was alone in a rental house we own in Columbus, Georgia. While waiting on contractors to prepare the house for sale, he received a phone call from an angel at the Army Inspector General’s office. He was calling to say that the Justice Dept. had found “no evidence to substantiate the accusations made against him”. No charges would be filed. All would be restored. He would walk out of the fire unscathed.

The next morning I received an email from the retreat organization saying that someone was calling that day to finalize our travel arrangements. God’s timing is so frickin’ unbelievable.

But… that phone call never came. For the next week none of our phone calls or emails were returned. Two days before we were scheduled to travel we received a phone call from the founder of the organization. They screwed up. Someone/multiple people dropped the ball. The retreat was overbooked and they had no space for our family.

For four days we processed our emotions. Processing emotions for us looks a lot like exchanging nasty email and phone calls with the people who dropped the ball. It wasn’t pretty, but we’re human. After being told that they were trying to “make it right”, I sent a message that simply said, “The only way to make this right is to honor your word. We have two teenagers who planned their entire summer around this trip, two children with autism who keep asking why we didn’t get on a plane and go to Colorado, and military leave that cannot be restored.” The recipient of that message responded with six round-trip tickets anywhere that JetBlue flies. An hour later, we had flights booked to one of the few places that had six seats open on the same day… Puerto Rico.

So here we sit, 35,000 feet above the Atlantic ocean, marveling over the fact that God truly does restore all that is lost.

When Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego walked out of the fire, King Nebuchadnezzar was astonished to see that they were not burned. He had asked his groupies to make the fire three times as hot as it’s normal heat and then watched those groupies burn up in the process of throwing the boys in the furnace. He also witnessed that although only three people were thrown into the fire, there were four in the furnace. When the boys stepped out, King Neb proclaimed that their God was indeed the one true God. He promoted them and gave orders that they should be exalted. God had taken what was intended for their destruction and used it for their increase. He did the same with Job. And the same with Joseph. For thirty months, when we weren’t in crisis or depressed, we’ve claimed that this was my husband’s Joseph season. That all that was lost would be restored in multiplicity. That someday he would have the chance to bless his military brothers who set out to destroy him.

We are out of the fire. We are not burned. God was ALWAYS with us, especially in the ugly. We are ridiculously excited about the future. If God could replace our lost retreat with a week in paradise, He must certainly have an A-MA-ZING plan for my husband’s career.

To each and every person that has stood by us and prayed for us and drug us off the couch and spoke hard truth to us, thanks isn’t a big enough word. I’m not certain that I/he/we would have survived this journey without God using you in our lives.

Now for a little time in paradise. 🙂 flamenco-beach