Devoted to Duty

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 the Army had returned to me. 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 the same location. If you’re curious about what that means, the parts of their brains that control memories and behaviors, and trigger fear responses, has 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, 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 1:5-7 This 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.

Always Devoted to Duty,

Kaci

Happy, Holy, Hard, Hopeful, Healing Mother’s Day

I awoke this Mother’s Day to a message from my firstborn letting me know that she had arrived in Cannes for the film festival. She made a film a couple of years ago that won a couple of festivals in the US and in December she was invited to show in Cannes. My joy and pride in her talent and accomplishments is nothing less than holy.

This precious picture of the four who call me, “Mama” was taken six years ago. Those years have been filled with uncountable challenges and some fairly traumatic wounds. Shortly after receiving the message from France, my boys brought me breakfast in bed (that they made together without arguing -Woohoo!), gifts, and the sweetest card filled with their gratitude that I am theirs and they are mine… healing.

While eating the breakfast my boys made me, I began to weep. I so wish that this day wasn’t filled with such a mixed bag of emotions. But it is. It is a hard day not just for me, but for so many people that I know and love. Some of us have no mother to honor today. Some of us have mothers that, due to unhealed wounds, we would rather not honor today. Some of us are grieving children both alive and dead. Some of us are longing for children we do not yet have. Some of us have children with no father to encourage them to honor us. Some of us have our children’s fathers around, but because we are not their mothers or because of their own unhealed wounds, they do not honor us or encourage our children to do so. Some of us are living with shame and regret over choices we’ve made as mothers. Some of us have children that are being raised by other mothers. And some of us are raising children that were birthed by women who will never get to hear those children call them, “Mama.” All of these realities complicate this day.

Deuteronomy 30:15-16, 19 “Now listen! Today I am giving you a choice between life and death, between prosperity and disaster. For I command you this day to love the Lord your God and to keep his commands, decrees, and regulations by walking in his ways. If you do this, you will live and multiply, and the Lord your God will bless you and the land you are about to enter and occupy... “Today I have given you the choice between life and death, between blessings and curses. Now I call on heaven and earth to witness the choice you make. Oh, that you would choose life, so that you and your descendants might live! 

I’ve had a couple of recent conversations that have reminded me of God’s truth, dried my tears today, and given me great hope. Those conversations have revolved around the many times in the book of Deuteronomy when God said to the Israelites that He gives us a choice between life and death, blessings and curses, and promises that whatever we choose is not just for ourselves, but for the generations to come. God didn’t say that we have to wait for our parents to choose life, prosperity, or blessings in order for us to experience those promises. He didn’t say that we needed to think about our circumstances before choosing. He didn’t say that we are unqualified to choose. He didn’t say that we needed to wait until everything was easy and painless. He simply said that WE get to make those choices. And, if we love Him and walk in His ways, we (and the place we occupy) will be blessed.

Romans 5:5 Such hope in God’s promises never disappoints us, because God’s love has been abundantly poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.

Whether this day is filled with hardship, holiness, hope, or a healing process; my prayer is that we all find something today to be happy about and the courage and wisdom to CHOOSE blessings, life, and prosperity.

Have a Happy Holy Hard Hopeful Healing Mother’s Day.

Steal, kill, destroy…or satisfying life

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My Mermaid

I know that some readers still come here for updates on Sofija. So, before I dive into the title story, I want to share that tomorrow (Monday March 4th), for the first time since October 2015, Sofi Bea Brave is GOING TO SCHOOL! We’re all excited. Maybe me a little more than her, but whatever. Her two behavior aids that normally work with her at home will be at school with her and the administration of the school has been extremely accommodating and supportive of her many needs. So, if you just drop by this space because you care about our baby girl, feel free to keep her and everyone that’s working with her in your prayers. Specific requests: safety for everyone, peace for her, a few hours of freedom for me (translation: I don’t get called back to the school).

As for the title of this piece, I’m giving you a fair warning that I’m about to get spiritual AND expose my crazy.

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See that handsome guy I’m leaning on? Two weeks ago we were in Jamaica celebrating our 25th anniversary. Twenty-five years is a long flipping time to spend with the same person! We calculated that we’d been married for 1300 weeks and this was the first time in our entire marriage that we’ve taken a whole week to just enjoy each other. We’ve already booked another trip for August. We agreed that our time away was the best week of entire lives and now we realize that we’ve got some making up to do! If, like us, you’ve found every excuse under the sun to not get away with your spouse, do yourself a favor and make it happen. I started scheduling people to keep the house running more than a month out. The three weeks before we left were consumed with making sure we had 2:1 care for Sofija around the clock, groceries, and transportation for Seth every day that we were away. It was A LOT of work! But it was sooooo worth it!

The week before we left, a surprise package was delivered. My hot husband had ordered us the Fierce Marriage 31-day pursuit books and the 30-day couple’s devotional. I may have swooned a little when I opened the box. Reading is not my husband’s favorite activity and suggestions of doing a study together are usually met with little enthusiasm. But things around here have been changing. At the beginning of the year we started seeing a marriage counselor. When I did a get-to-know-you call with our counselor of choice, he asked what our number one goal was in counseling. I replied, “We want to learn how to fight.”

We started a list on our 18th anniversary of things we’d learned about marriage and we’ve added to it a few times. #15 on the list is: Remember that your spouse IS NOT your enemy. Here’s the disclaimer about that little tidbit… you’re still going to fight. My Mama used to say, “If two people agree on everything, one of them isn’t necessary.” It’s true. It’s boring to spend time with someone who agrees with you on everything. The question is, “How do you deal with conflict and disagreements?” In our case, the answer has always been, “Not no nicely.” We both came from homes where our parents were divorced when we were five years old. Our earliest examples of conflict resolution were not so great. Between our parents, step-parents, grandparents, aunts & uncles, siblings, and extended families; we observed the following methods of resolving conflict:

1) Just don’t speak to the person ever again, or don’t speak to them for years and when you do act like nothing ever happened and only discuss the weather and sports.

2) Never address something painful in the moment and after bottling up wounds EXPLODE because the forks weren’t loaded right in the dishwasher and then precede to destroy each other with your words in front of everyone within earshot.

3) EXPLODE over every little thing and leave everyone around you walking on eggshells.

4) Physically fight it out.

5) NEVER speak up when you’re hurt or disagree and just talk bad about the person who’s hurt you to everyone who will listen, OR passively-aggressively get revenge.

So, for the first twenty-five years of our marriage we tried our damndest to do better, but all too often found ourselves repeating the cycles of what had been modeled for us. On January 2nd, 2019, we decided that it was time to actually do better. Once we made that decision we immediately knew that we needed a mediator to walk us through healing the damage we’d done and filling our tool chest with tools that we couldn’t seem to find ourselves.

Which led to the surprise package of books and our trip to Jamaica. RwWbiwFERD+E7SrwwgLSaQ

This picture was taken on Sunday February 17th, 24 years and 364 days into our marriage. My husband had posted a really sweet picture from the breakfast we’d had on our balcony that morning on Facebook and had been reading the comments to me all day. In order to make sure we weren’t distracted on our trip, we left our laptops at home and most nights I didn’t even charge my phone. That day was one of the days where my phone was dead. I took this picture while my husband was snoring on the lounger next to me. We had only been there for 24hrs and I was still struggling to just sit and be so I picked up his phone to look at Facebook. I couldn’t get the app to load so I opened his settings to shut down the apps using cellular data with the hopes of getting it to load. After shutting down a gazillion sports and news apps I see an app called “Telegram” that’s using cellular data and shut it off too. As soon as I shut it down I looked to see what folder he had it in on his phone. For those wondering, it was in a folder with tv and news apps. I made a mental note to ask him about it and went back to Facebook.

So… a little later, as we were getting ready to go to dinner, I asked in a completely accusatory tone totally loving and trusting tone, “What is that Telegram app on your phone?” He got uncomfortable and said that he didn’t know what it was or when he’d put it on his phone. By the time I asked, our room phone was ringing to announce that we needed to get to our dinner reservation. At that moment I made a decision that is completely unnatural and out of character for me, I would put my questions and crazy thoughts on a shelf and approach it later. Shelving the questions and crazy thoughts was a success! We danced in our anniversary and had the most fun that we’ve have together in ages.IMG_2249

Well, the “later” came at 3am when I woke up obsessively thinking about that stupid app. I looked it up on my phone (which I’d remembered to plug in before bed) and found that it’s a messenger app where the messages disappear like snapchat photos and has an option for secret chats that never appear on either user’s phone. And then I found myself, at three something in the morning on our twenty-fifth anniversary, crawling on the floor to his side of the bed and hoping that his cpap would drown out the sound of me taking his phone off the nightstand and sneaking it into the living room of our suite. I opened the app and found no history of messages or chats. I spent half an hour learning how to pull deleted messages and chats from the telegram cloud and felt confident that I’d find the answers to all my questions even if he wouldn’t answer them. I added the app on my phone with his account info and set it so that I would receive notifications of any messages sent or received. I then crawled back to his side of the bed, plugged his phone back in, crawled back around to my side, and climbed in bed with a million worst case scenario possibilities running through my mind.

The morning of our twenty-fifth anniversary was not pretty. My husband woke to me sobbing and I immediately told him all about my 3am exploits. He was frustrated, and I was scared and hurting. He continued to emphatically state that he had never used the app and he wasn’t sure when or why he’d put it on his phone. After talking in circles for about an hour he asked me to sit on the balcony and do our devotion. The day before we had gone over how the strength of our marriage was far more dependent on our beliefs about God than about our feelings for each other. The devotion had included Romans 12:2 Stop imitating the ideals and opinions of the culture around you, but be inwardly transformed by the Holy Spirit through a total reformation of how you think. This will empower you to discern God’s will as you live a beautiful life, satisfying and perfect in his eyes.

John 10:10 “The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life.” ~ Jesus

On our anniversary, the devotion was all about oneness in marriage. Matthew 19:6 Since they are no longer two but one, let no one split apart what God has joined together.” The first question that day asked if there are areas of our hearts that have hardened towards one another. The devotion led to an emotional, loving discussion that allowed me to put my 3am concerns in a little box that I knew we’d have to deal with later. I DID NOT want to be miserable on this trip! We were quickly about to identify that “the thief”, aka Satan, was CLEARLY trying to steal our joy and peace and destroy all that we’ve been working hard on in and out of counseling. We were also quickly able to see that Jesus had put the ad for Fierce Marriage in front of my husband’s eyes just in time for him to order it and have it delivered before this trip. God knew. He knew that we would be attacked and He knew what it would take for us to get back to enjoying each other.

I honestly didn’t think about the app again until we’d been home for a couple of days and I spotted it on my phone. Seeing it led me to look at the app store and see when it was downloaded. The day he downloaded it happened to be the same day that I left for England last November. Knowing that he added it on the same day that I was leaving the country did nothing for the thoughts of betrayal having a party in my head. So, after we did our devotion for the day I brought it up again. Chad quickly asked what I needed to make my doubts and insecurities go away. I replied that I needed to know the whole truth because I couldn’t think of a single harmless reason for a married man to have a disappearing messaging app hidden on his phone. He said that he understood, but he was growing concerned about how long this was going to keep us from living a “satisfying life”. I then told him that I had no peace about pulling the history of the app from the cloud because I needed to hear “the truth” from him. We’ve had a few discussions during and after counseling about the fact that offenses and betrayals are not what hurt the most. What hurts the most is learning about offenses and betrayals via channels other than looking each other in the eyes and confessing. Just be truthful. Period.

Everything in me wanted to believe that he had no idea why he had the app. But, all the voices of women in my life who’ve been played for fools were running through my mind. You know what was NOT running through my mind? God’s voice. Or the Holy Spirit’s voice. There was zero God-truth transformation happening in what I was thinking.

The same night that the app came back to the forefront of our conversation, our Serbian princess awoke at 3am. After battling her for nearly an hour to get back to sleep I started praying. First I prayed over her, and then I prayed over our marriage, and then I prayed over my mind. I asked Holy Spirit for the same thing I asked on the day that we received divine confirmation that we were supposed to adopt Sofija. “God, please change my heart and give me wisdom.” Almost immediately I heard, “Check email from the day the app was downloaded.” I scrolled down to that date in November and the first thing I opened was from a streaming service that we use. I returned from that trip last fall to find that we had finally cut the cord with cable. On the day that I left, my hot husband started watching tutorials and downloading streaming apps to all tv’s in the house. The first email I opened from that day gave instructions on how to get help with a particular streaming app. It said this, “Our support desk ONLY works with the Telegram app. Please download the app and add us as a contact if you have any questions.” There it was. A completely harmless and absolutely clear explanation for the app. I humbly ate crow apologized. He a little self-righteously lovingly gave grace.

“The thief came to steal, kill, and destroy.” It makes me sad when I think how close he came to destroying the best week of our lives. “But I have come to give them a rich and satisfying life.” Thank you! Thank you! Thank you, Jesus!

Ephesians 6:12 Your hand-to-hand combat is not with human beings, but with the highest principalities and authorities operating in rebellion under the heavenly realms. For they are a powerful class of demon-gods and evil spirits that hold this dark world in bondage.

Additions to the marriage rules list…

  1. Go to counseling if you need to learn to fight.
  2. Remember that your battle is NOT against flesh and blood. If you’re in a battle, there’s something spiritual going on.
  3. Look for all the ways God wants to equip you for the spiritual war we’re fighting.
  4. Go to Jamaica with your spouse.
  5. Share your crazy. Somebody out there (like me) needs to know they’re not alone.

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

22 secrets to staying married…

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Dear Hubby and I celebrated our 22nd wedding anniversary on February 18th. For the first time in many years we were able to get away for a couple of days to celebrate. It was a quick trip to New York City with no real agenda except to spend time with each other. I still love walking by his side. I still drink in our conversations. He still makes me laugh. He’s still my favorite guy. 🙂

Because it’s become an annual tradition for us to grow this list…

22 Secrets to Staying Married

1. Treat your spouse better than anyone else treats them. We all want to be around people who build us up. If the person who does that for your spouse is someone other than you, guess who your spouse is going to want to spend time with.

2. When you fight, don’t vent to your friends and family. They’re not in love with your spouse and long after you’ve kissed and made up they are going to remember the dirt you’ve shared with them.

3. Have friends who love their spouse. Nothing good will come from keeping company with a person who constantly complains about the person they chose to marry.

4. Trade the worst for the best. When your spouse shows you the worst of their character, think about all of their best qualities. When you remember the things you like about a person it’s easy to forget the things you don’t.

5. Be the first to apologize.

6. Don’t go to bed angry. It is easier said than done, but it is a very worthy goal.

7. Spend time with couples who will speak truth. It may hurt your pride to be on a double-date and have someone ask you, “Are you treating him the way you want to be treated?”, but it will never hurt your marriage.

8. Avoid alone-time and personal conversations with anyone of the opposite sex (or the same sex if you find yourself craving more time and/or sharing more with that person than with your spouse).

9. Keep a common interest (other than your kids). There was something that the two of you couldn’t stop talking about when you first met. Keep talking about it and when you lose interest in it, find something new to talk about.

10. Pay attention. I try to make mental notes of everything my husband says he is interested in. “I love this band.” (Get concert tickets) “I’d like to eat there some day.” (Make reservations for date night) “I’d trade a kid for one of those guns.” (Buy him a weapon for father’s day.) When you pay attention to what your spouse talks about, you will never run out of ways to show them you love them.

11. Have sex. Lots of sex. In premarital counseling, I had a little old lady look at me and say, “Kaci, sex is as necessary to a man as food. Just always think of it as a meal. Sometimes he’ll give you several courses of fine dining and sometimes it’ll be like going through the drive-thru at McDonald’s.” She was a very wise woman.

12. Give grace. The Bible tells us repeatedly to forgive others so that God can forgive us. We’ve learned that giving the same kind of grace that we hope to receive is our only hope for a peaceful home.

13. Confess. Confess. Confess. When you hide things it’s an absolute certainty that a little voice will start asking you, “What is she/he hiding from you?” Secrets and half-truths lead to guilt, distrust, accusations, and insecurity. If you feel the need to keep something from your spouse, share it with your spouse immediately. Wine and cheese get better with age. Not sin.

14. Don’t let the kids come between you. Believe me. They will try. And try. And try. When your kids can turn you against each other it makes them insecure and it damages your marriage. Remind yourself often that when two people have a child, they have a common enemy.

15. Remember that your spouse IS NOT your enemy. It is very easy to assume that every pain they cause you is intentional. It usually is not. Go back to number 12.

16. Date. It took us nearly eighteen years to start dating regularly. We don’t know what took us so long, but date-night is now our favorite night of the week.

17. Study your spouse. I sometimes ask my hubby, “Tell me something I don’t know about you.” Even if it’s a small detail about his workday that I would likewise have never known, I feel closer to him because he’s shared something new with me. This one is actually a pretty big deal. It is easy to get bored and to watch years slip away filled with the mundane. Married life and a faith life are exactly the same. When I study and seek the heart of God, I fall in love with Him over and over and I get a glimpse of just how much He loves me. When I study and seek the heart of my husband, I fall in love with him over and over and I get reminded that the love he has for me is the closest I have ever come to the love God has for me.

18. Pray for each other. Out loud. We went on a marriage retreat in the summer of 2003 where we were told to find a spot in a room full of people where we could pray for each other. We were both scared. Quite certain that we were the only couple in the room who had never prayed together, we held hands, closed our eyes, pressed our heads together and listened for a few minutes to the people around us to see if they knew how this was supposed to work. Realizing that nobody around us sounded any more comfortable than we felt, we started praying. In that half an hour we took turns thanking God for all the things we love about each other and claiming His blessings over each other. When we were done we looked at each other and discussed the fact that neither of us had ever felt so loved or so secure in our relationship.

19. (This should really be #1) Figure out what it means to be in relationship with Christ and work on that relationship BEFORE you deal with issues with your spouse. If you do not have God in the proper place in your life, you WILL expect your spouse to be your savior or to fulfill needs that they will never be capable of fulfilling.

20. The Do-Over… This is probably the most valuable communication tool we’ve discovered. A couple of months ago I said something to my hubby in an unintentional nasty tone. He looked at me and said, “Would you like to do that over?” Since that moment, every time one of us feels hurt or offended by something the other one has said or done, we offer a do-over. See numbers 15 and 12.

21. Laugh. A lot. Maybe even more than you have sex. Here’s the biggest thing you should know about married life: It’s hard. REALLY hard. If you let it, the hard stuff will destroy your marriage. No matter what you’re going through, look for something to laugh about. I’ve known several couples who stopped having sex and stayed married, but few who stayed together when they stopped laughing together.

22. Resolve to stick it out. Even if you’re doing all of the things listed above, you’re going to want to call it quits. Make up your mind that quitting is simply not an option. Remind yourself that there are dark nights between sunny days, but the sun ALWAYS rises.

 

21 years / 21 lessons

Twenty-six years ago, on February 18th 1989, I walked into a banquet hall at the Omni Shoreham Hotel in Washington, DC to pick up my registration packet for Presidential Classroom. As I entered that room I noticed a pack of boys standing off to the side of the room wearing military school uniforms. I took note of the one who appeared to be the leader of the pack. I’ve always had a thing for the leader of the pack. The pack-leader’s black flat-top haircut and ridiculous number of cords and medals made him look like some hybrid of Play from Kid N Play and a Mexican general.

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I was a seventeen-year-old senior in high school and evidently that hybrid was my dream guy. Five years later, on February 18, 1994, we were married.

20533_1375537307502_4524964_n  On our 18th anniversary I shared “18 things we’d learned in 18 years” of marriage. Unfortunately, life lessons for us tend to be learned the hard way. Our hope is that by sharing what we’ve learned through blood, sweat, and tears, some other couple will just take our word for it and avoid the process of painful learning.

This year, as we celebrated our 21st anniversary, we sat and discussed what we’ve learned since the “18” list was made. In the last three years we’ve actually learned more about life, God, what we’re made of, and how to love, than we learned in the previous eighteen years. After a lengthy discussion, we narrowed those lessons down to three new bits of wisdom that we hope inspire you…

18 + 3 things we’ve learned about marriage

1. Treat your spouse better than anyone else treats them. We all want to be around people who build us up. If the person who does that for your spouse is someone other than you, guess who your spouse is going to want to spend time with.

2. When you fight, don’t vent to your friends and family. They’re not in love with your spouse and long after you’ve kissed and made up they are going to remember the dirt you’ve shared with them.

3. Have friends who love their spouse. Nothing good will come from keeping company with a person who constantly complains about the person they chose to marry.

4. Trade the worst for the best (Dear hubby shared this one last night for the very first time. He’s a keeper. :)). When your spouse shows you the worst of their character, think about all of their best qualities. When you remember the things you like about a person it’s easy to forget the things you don’t.

5. Be the first to apologize.

6. Don’t go to bed angry. It is easier said than done, but it is a very worthy goal.

7. Spend time with couples who will speak truth. It may hurt your pride to be on a double-date and have someone ask you, “Are you treating him the way you want to be treated?”, but it will never hurt your marriage.

8. Avoid alone-time and personal conversations with anyone of the opposite sex (or the same sex if you find yourself craving more time and/or sharing more with that person than with your spouse).

9. Keep a common interest (other than your kids). There was something that the two of you couldn’t stop talking about when you first met. Keep talking about it and when you lose interest in it, find something new to talk about.

10. Pay attention. I try to make mental notes of everything my husband says he is interested in. “I love this band.” (Get concert tickets) “I’d like to eat there some day.” (Make reservations for date night) “I’d trade a kid for one of those guns.” (Buy him a weapon for father’s day.) When you pay attention to what your spouse talks about, you will never run out of ways to show them you love them.

11. Have sex. Lots of sex. In premarital counseling, I had a little old lady look at me and say, “Kaci, sex is as necessary to a man as food. Just always think of it as a meal. Sometimes he’ll give you several courses of fine dining and sometimes it’ll be like going through the drive-thru at McDonald’s.” She was a very wise woman.

12. Give grace. The Bible tells us repeatedly to forgive others so that God can forgive us. We’ve learned that giving the same kind of grace that we hope to receive is our only hope for a peaceful home.

13. Confess. Confess. Confess. When you hide things it’s an absolute certainty that the enemy will start asking you, “What is she/he hiding from you?” Secrets and half-truths lead to guilt, distrust, accusations, and insecurity. If you feel the need to keep something from your spouse, share it with your spouse immediately. Wine and cheese get better with age. Not sin.

14. Don’t let the kids come between you. Believe me. They will try. And try. And try. When your kids can turn you against each other it makes them insecure and it damages your marriage. Remind yourself often that when two people have a child, they have a common enemy.

15. Remember that your spouse IS NOT your enemy. It is very easy to assume that every pain they cause you is intentional. It usually is not. Go back to number 12.

16. Date. We just started dating regularly about six months ago. We don’t know what took us so long, but date-night is now our favorite night of the week.

17. Study your spouse. I sometimes ask my hubby, “Tell me something I don’t know about you.” Even if it’s a small detail about his workday that I would likewise have never known, I feel closer to him because he’s shared something new with me. This one is actually a pretty big deal. It is easy to get bored and to watch years slip away filled with the mundane. Married life and a faith life are exactly the same. When I study and seek the heart of God, I fall in love with Him over and over and I get a glimpse of just how much He loves me. When I study and seek the heart of my husband, I fall in love with him over and over and I get reminded that the love he has for me is the closest I have ever come to the love God has for me.

18. Pray for each other. Out loud. We went on a marriage retreat in the summer of 2003 where we were told to find a spot in a room full of people where we could pray for each other. We were both scared. Quite certain that we were the only couple in the room who had never prayed together, we held hands, closed our eyes, pressed our heads together and listened for a few minutes to the people around us to see if they knew how this was supposed to work. Realizing that nobody around us sounded any more comfortable than we felt, we started praying. In that half an hour we took turns thanking God for all the things we love about each other and claiming His blessings over each other. When we were done we looked at each other and discussed the fact that neither of us had ever felt so loved or so secure in our relationship.

19. (This should really be #1) Figure out what it means to be in relationship with Christ and work on that relationship BEFORE you deal with issues with your spouse. If you don’t have God in the proper place in your life you WILL expect your spouse to be your savior or to fulfill needs that they will never be capable of fulfilling.

20. The Do-Over… This is probably the most valuable communication tool we’ve discovered. A couple of months ago I said something to my hubby in an unintentional nasty tone. He looked at me and said, “Would you like to do that over?” Since that moment, every time one of us feels hurt or offended by something the other one has said or done, we offer a do-over. See numbers 15 and 12.

21. Laugh. A lot. Maybe even more than you have sex. Here’s the biggest thing you should know about married life: It’s hard. REALLY hard. If you let it, the hard stuff will destroy your marriage. No matter what you’re going through, look for something to laugh about. I’ve known several couples who stopped having sex and stayed married, but few who stayed together when they stopped laughing together.

In honor of surviving the last twenty-one years we ventured out in single digit temperatures to see Tab Benoit in concert. Sitting in a concert hall listening to the Blues with the love of your life may not be a necessity, but it certainly doesn’t hurt. 😀

Mission: Safe Sofija (adoption is a horse)

I started a post more than a year ago titled “Cutting the Horn off the Unicorn”.  That post turned into a personal vent session so I decided not to share it. This post is its replacement. I’m about to cut the horn off a unicorn…

Adoption is hard.

REALLY hard.

In order for one Mother to adopt a child, another Mother must lose a child. In order for an adopted child to attach to her/his adoptive family, that child must let go of their biological family. Adoption ALWAYS involves a lifetime war of nature vs. nurture. Sometimes nurture wins. Sometimes it doesn’t.

When you choose to have a child with someone, you usually take into account what that person will contribute to your child. Will they make pretty babies? Do they come from a long line of smart people? Do compassion and entrepreneurship run in their family? Are they athletic?

or…

Will your children be ugly, clumsy, dumb, lazy, and cold-hearted? Do heart disease, diabetes, and cancer run in both of your families? Does your potential Baby’s Daddy have a physical or learning disability?

At the end of the account taking you usually end up saying, “Hey, he meets half my desires for a Baby Daddy and I love him so let’s get busy.”

Adoption works nothing like the above scenario.

Before I go any further I want to say that I LOVE ADOPTION! I don’t want this post to leave anyone believing otherwise.

But I’m sick and tired of reading all the blogs and news articles that paint adoption as nothing but rainbows and unicorns.

In biological parenting you weigh all the knowns, and you accept the risks. In adoption you weigh all the UNknowns, and you accept the risks. I’m a risk-taker. I was made for adoption. And still… adoption has broken me, taken me to the end of myself, and shown me day after day that the only way through this life is 100% dependence on God.

Yesterday, January 10, 2015, I did one of the hardest things I’ve ever done as a parent. My husband and I admitted our nine-year old daughter to the psychiatric unit at Children’s National Medical Center. I have prayed for wisdom in sharing details leading up to this decision while protecting our daughter. The decision to admit her was ultimately made because we no longer felt that we were keeping her safe at home. She will be hospitalized anywhere from one to three weeks and in that time we will meet several times with a team of doctors and develop a plan for keeping her safe at home from this point forward.

When we began the process of adopting Sofija we knew that she had autism. We were told little else about her or her biological family and everything we WERE told was untrue. When we arrived in Serbia and met her and heard the truth of her history and experienced exactly what we were getting ourselves into, I wanted to walk away. Judge me. Think badly of me. I really don’t care. I wanted to walk away. No matter what your thoughts are, I encourage you to click that last link and read the post I wrote in Serbia while God was working on my heart. As hard as it was to move forward and as hard as every day has been for the last 57 months, we were walking in God’s will. And there’s really no place I’d rather be.

The things I feel comfortable sharing about the last few months are:

-Sofija has repeatedly run away and has spent every second of every day trying to find a way out of the house so she can get to 7eleven.

-She has hurt herself. Repeatedly, and in horrible ways.

-She has hurt us. Repeatedly, and in horrible ways.

-She refuses to stay in her seat in a car and she frequently attacks (jumps on, slaps, throws objects at, pulls hair) everyone in the car, to include the driver.

-She has hurt other students at school and on her bus.

Last, but certainly not least, she has stopped sleeping. She didn’t fall asleep AT ALL between January 2nd and January 6th and since the 6th she has slept no more than 2-4 hours per night. When she wakes up she tries to get out of the house which means that we don’t sleep. The only rest Chad and I have had for the last couple of months has been when she’s at school. We’re not living. We’re surviving. We try to keep her and us safe when she’s home and we sleep while she’s at school. That’s our life. Our life is exhausting. We are spent.

Adoption is hard.

Really hard.

But… James 1:27 Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means CARING FOR ORPHANS and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you.

Does that mean every person who calls themselves a “Christian” needs to adopt? Absolutely, positively, NO. But it does mean that The Church has a responsibility to care for orphans. What does that look like? For me, today, it means sitting in a room that looks like a prison cell (with a sweet view of The Capital and the Washington Monument) with my daughter and believing that her (and our) quality of life will be a thousand times better when she is released. It means that I get to spend the rest of my life fighting the nature vs. nurture war with high hopes that nurture will win.

What does “caring for orphans” look like for you? Well, it’s honestly a question that you have to answer for yourself. I can tell you that our family is not the only adoptive family hurting. Maybe not to the same degree as us, but there are adoptive families all over the place just trying to survive.

-LOVE THEM! We’re lonely! We’re tired! We need YOU!! For quite some time we have basically been shut-ins. Because Sofija hates leaving home and her favorite way of taking control in the car is to jump on the person driving, leaving our house as a family has literally required risking our lives. She’s almost 5’1″, weighs 87lbs, runs like a cheetah, and she’s strong as an ox. We NEED people to come to us.

-Stop judging us!!! We need love and grace and compassion and there just isn’t any room in our lives for judgment. And while I’m on the subject: Adoptive Moms, please stop judging other adoptive Moms. Some families choose disruption and if that is what they choose, respect that choice. I can absolutely guarantee you that the decision to disrupt is not made with any less thought than the decision to adopt. We’re all just trying to survive and care for orphans and sometimes caring for an orphan means allowing that child to become part of a new family.

-We also need people to love on our other children. They’re lonely too. They’ve made HUGE sacrifices in order for us to add a child to our family and (in our case) they have been traumatized by the addition to the family. They need some peace and normalcy and they just don’t get it at home.

-Find an adoptive family in your church and get to know them. Go to their home and try not to be freaked out by the chaos. Our church does an AMAZING job of loving on us! We have a small group of people from our church that meet at our house weekly so that we have a chance to love on others.

-Don’t be afraid to go to the homes of people with adopted children. You just might be blessed! We’ve learned more about grace, faith, hope and provision, than most people will in a lifetime. Ask us questions. Most of us miss face-to-face conversations.

-If you can financially support adoption, contribute to someone who’s in the process. Adoption is expensive (average cost is $30k-$60k) and just because someone is a risk taker with the strength and grace to parent a child from a hard place doesn’t mean that person has the financial resources to bring home a child that needs a family.

-Offer to babysit. You might get slapped or have your hair pulled or have things thrown at you; but you also just might save a marriage that’s been pushed to its limits. Did you read that? Getting uncomfortable for a few hours may just save a marriage. And a saved marriage means less trauma and loss for a child who’s lost more than anyone ever should.

-Most importantly: PRAY! Pray for our family and when you’re done, pray for other adoptive families. God answers prayers. God heals. God provides. Get on your knees or in your shower or pause before climbing out of bed and PRAY!

In adoption there are indeed rainbows; those bright, beautiful, colorful moments that fill you with hope and promise and paint a smile on your face. But like real rainbows, they fade away too soon and leave you expectantly searching for the next one to appear.

Although the rainbow moments exists, there are no unicorns. Adoption is not magical and mythical. It is hard. Really hard. But you know what? When you cut the horn off a unicorn you still have a beautiful, strong, stubborn, magnificent being. Adoption is a horse. And I like horses.

Believing that our hospital snuggles quickly become SAFE at-home snuggles. 10653833_10205720021978831_9099978568237184432_n