The whole first grade

We’ve been waiting for weeks for Brandon’s official orders to come for his deployment. I’d heard about a number of people who thought they were deploying and then later found out they were not. So I started thinking/hoping Brandon would not have to go because we hadn’t received the orders.

Well, we finally got “the word”.

The good news is he doesn’t have to go until July. The bad news is he has to go in July.

It was time to tell the girls.

We’ve been particularly concerned about how Hope would handle the news. This is the girl who tries to barricade the door when loved ones leave.

june12 004 june12 005

Brandon sat her down and told her, and surprisingly she was… fine. She talked about his homecoming after the last deployment and how she wore a bunny costume that day. She said she’d miss their stinky pants fights. (Yes, that’s a game in which they pelt each other with stinky pants, a game in which Mommy does not participate).

Finally she simply asked, “When are you leaving?”

“In a couple months.”

“I’ll miss you, Daddy.”

She hugged his neck and ran up the stairs to brush her teeth.

I looked at him. “Well, that went well.

“Yeah,” he laughed. “She didn’t seem too broken up about it.”

But as I helped her get ready for bed I watched her face grow troubled and sad as the news sank in.

By the time we tucked her in she was almost angry.

“I don’t want you to go! A year is too long. A year is all the way from now until a few days after Christmas!”

It took a minute to realize she was equating New Year’s Day with a year.

“Babe, Daddy will be gone from July to July. That’s a year.”

She looked at me trying to imagine it.

I blabbed on, “You’ll finish kindergarten, and then it will be summer right? So Daddy will be gone from this summer to next summer. He’ll miss the whole first grade. And-”

The pained, horrified look on her face stopped me in my tracks. I turned and saw the same pained, horrified look on his face.

Later I thought about it and I knew what I said was wrong. So I told her as soon as she woke up,

“Daddy won’t miss the whole first grade, Hope. We’ll take pictures and talk on the phone and skype and tell him all the juicy details. He won’t be here here, but he’ll be here.”

“Yeah, I know Mom. It’s kind of like God. Sometimes I don’t see him, but I know he’s with me.”

*

pushup

Again

“Have you told them yet?”

Brandon looks up at me from across the table and shakes his head.

“I’ve started talking with Hope. Just a little bit,” he says.

Every night, honestly every night, when Hope prays she says: ‘Thank you God that we’re all together.’ I don’t know what she knows. I don’t know what she senses. But she seems to understand  - better than me sometimes – that our family is God’s grace-gift to each of us, our togetherness is a blessing.

Brandon is leaving again.

Less than six months after returning home from a 14-month deployment, the Army is sending him away for training. He leaves in a few days and will be gone four months… until late August. He’ll miss another summer at home.

“At least it’s not Iraq,” I’ve been told. “At least he’ll be in the same country, same time zone.” It’s true.

But he will not be here. He will not be here for afternoons in the sun, hours of splashing at the mushroom pool, days at the park, trips to New Hampshire, summer evenings on the back deck of the new home. He will not be here for Rhema’s middle-of-the-night antics and doctor’s appointments in Boston and meetings and birthdays and end-of-year school programs.

In practical terms, we’re just about ready. Got neighbors on the look-out, got special locks on the doors and windows, the 6-foot tall fence is installed so Rhema can’t get out. My work schedule is set and summer programs for the girls are in place. We’re concerned about Rhema – she needs constant, one-on-one support, and she’s going through a med withdrawal and some difficult behaviors have cropped up. But we’re working on getting respite care, hoping the funding will come through.

And still, of course, we’re not ready. Not ready to tell Hope her Daddy is going away again. She has basked and glowed in his attention these past months, delighted to awake every morning and find him still here. (When he first got back from Iraq she cried if he just left to go to the store.) And Rhema… I can’t pretend to know what she thinks or understands. But I know she feels his absences deeply, and I know she is more sure of herself, more settled, when he is near.

No matter how many times he leaves, it hurts his heart to miss so much time with his family. And as for me, I will do this. But I kind of don’t know how I’m going to do this. Again. I’d finally just found my way, found my rhythm with my mate. God’s been teaching us something about what it really means to treasure one another. My husband. I have enjoyed him, I have enjoyed me with him, so much.

And this feels like a very impolite interruption.

So many friends – some of whom I’ve never even seen face to face – have prayed for us. Thank you. I’m asking, would you pray for us again? Four months should seem like a breeze compared to the year-long deployments we’ve endured. But truly, for many reasons, this separation is the hardest.

It’s funny (not really), but last year’s long and lonely summer was bearable only because I was counting on the fact that this summer would be different. Now I wonder if perhaps there are lessons I need to learn again in the heat of day and on dark, quiet nights… that I can trust the Lord to fill the voids in my life, to indeed be my joy and strength, my enough. I would do well to review lessons in humility and contentment and thankfulness and how to ask for help.

And maybe, most of all in this school of some hard knocks, I need to know absolutely that He is here, wherever we are, and all that we need.  

Again and again.

.

“I am with you always…” Matt. 28:20

Midnight Plane to Georgia

Hold on to me
I’ll hold on to you
Let’s find out the beauty of seeing things through
 

~Loving A Person, Sara Groves

.

“I will rise now, and go about the city in the streets, and in the broad ways I will seek him whom my soul loveth: I sought him, but I found him not…
It was but a little that I passed from them, but I found him whom my soul loveth: I held him, and would not let him go…”
~ Song of Solomon 3:2-4

.

Friday morning I began receiving scripted phone calls that my husband’s unit would be arriving at Fort Stewart, Georgia with a homecoming ceremony scheduled for 11:35 that night. I was not surprised to get the calls – I knew Brandon was making his way through Iraq and Europe because I had not spoken to him in days. Weeks earlier we had discussed the homecoming and decided that the girls and I would not attend. We could not be exactly sure when he’d arrive – it was too expensive to fly to GA on short notice and just too hard to plan for.

But as the calls came in, I suddenly knew I had to be there.

It meant booking a last minute flight, making hasty arrangements… and asking for help. I called on friends to make grocery store runs and take 4-hour shifts of babysitting throughout the weekend. They gladly blessed me by caring for Rhema and Hope  – (Thank you so much Gail, Amalia, Melissa and Yoon!). My sister spent the nights with the girls at home so as not to disrupt Rhema’s routine.

It was a BIG DEAL for me to spontaneously leave my girls for a whole weekend. But it was important and necessary for me to put us first. Those of us who are blessed to be married – whether you’ve been at it for 5 days or 50 years, whether you’ve been apart for a year or you think you see way too much of each other – we all have a chance to do something new. Show more grace, serve in love, build up instead of tear down. (Thank God for second, third, fourth, fifth chances.) For me, this day, it meant finally letting go of some things and running to my man.

.

I made it there just in time, only to learn that the group of three hundred and fifty-four soldiers had been delayed and the ceremony would not begin until 1:05 am. Around 1000 people gathered on the field: mothers, fathers, spouses, children. There was such a sense of excitement and anticipation – understandably so – as these families have been waiting fifteen months for their soldier to come home. Kids ran back and forth across the field, babies were bounced and bundled. There were large, homemade signs, red-white-blue balloons and flowers everywhere. A not-so-good band played patriotic tunes, and murdered hits like “Mustang Sally” and “Superstition.” But we danced anyway. Someone handed me a flag.

We waited. And we waited and waited. My toes grew numb from the cold and I had to use the bathroom but I dared not leave. Instead I walked the Warriors Walk – a memorial to Soldies killed in Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom- that surrounded the field. I prayed for the families of soldiers who’d been lost. I thanked God for keeping this husband and father safe and bringing him home. I thanked God for the long, hard year. It felt surreal to finally make it to this point, the deployment’s end. I thanked God for all of the people who have loved us and supported us and prayed for us these past many months – I named every one I could name, knowing there are some whose names I don’t even know.

After my walk, it was announced that the buses carrying the soldiers were minutes away. I turned and saw people lining the streets, cheering, waving signs and flags. It was 2:30 am. White buses with soldiers leaning out the windows made their way down the streets, and they received a hero’s welcome. So many young ones. They had done their duty, and they were home. My heart was gripped, and I was honored to be in the number cheering for them. Lonely, painful scenes from the past year filled my mind, but I wasn’t bitter. I thought, maybe just maybe all of the hard stuff was worth it. For this moment.

The buses pulled around the back of the field, out of sight. There were tears and cheers as everyone waited for the soldiers to get in formation and come onto the field. The not-so-good lead singer crooned “Soooooldier. Get on off that bus. I said, get on off that bus.” Finally they marched onto the field, and the crowd went wild.

Someone sang the National Anthem. Men and women in uniform on the field and in the bleachers stood at attention. An older man standing next to me, in his Harley Davidson leather jacket, doffed his hat and belted out the words with tears streaming down his cheeks. The chaplain prayed. The general gave a speech. The Army song was sung. And then family and friends were ordered to “attack the formation”, and people raced onto the field.

A friend of Brandon’s who had served with him in Iraq for a time motioned for me to follow him – we had not seen Brandon yet. I spotted him first. His head was down slightly as he walked quickly off the field. I saw a mixture of emotions on his face – relief, exhaustion, happiness, a little sadness that his family was not there. His friend embraced him. Then he said, “Hey, I’ve got someone here to see you…”

The look on his face when he saw me…

well, then I knew it had all been worth it. All of it.

.

One of the things that has always moved me are the signs at homecoming ceremonies. They are always colorful, personal and wonderfully decorated. When Brandon came home from his first deployment in 2005, there were signs that said “God Kept You Safe”, “You’re Our Hero”, “Job Well Done”, “We Love You, We Missed You”, “Your Country Thanks You.” At this ceremony, a little girl wore a shirt that said “Outta my way, I’ve got to get to my Daddy.” Another rather busty woman wore a tight T-shirt with hearts and lips all over it that said, “Welcome Home, Baby.” A little boy, about five or six, carried a sign that read “Welcome Back, Mommy!” (That one got me). The Harley-Davidson dude held a poster that said, “I’m So Proud of You, Son!”

Last week when I thought I wasn’t going to be at the ceremony I made a simple sign and got my sis to take a picture. It’s not colorful or fancy at all, it took me 2 minutes to make. But it means everything in the world. Believe me, more than you can know. And so I carried it with me on the plane all the way from Massachusetts, and when I saw ‘my soldier’ I stepped back and held up my sign.

To every one who has prayed for us – specifically for our marriage – and encouraged us on this journey – THANK YOU.

By God’s grace alone,

 

.

Brandon will stay in Georgia for another couple weeks, and then he’ll be home for good.*

.

 

One Year Later: A Father and His Girls

One year ago, Brandon sat on the couch with Rhema before she left for school. He held her and explained that he was going away for a while. Rhema seemed completely oblivious – it was just another day. She had no idea that she would not see him for so long. Brandon was thinking ahead to when she would realize he was gone. He wanted her to know somehow that he had not left her.

When her school bus came, I let him take her out. I stayed back, not wanting to intrude on his goodbye to his girl. But I know he was praying that God would keep her safe. I heard the driver call out, “You’re in our prayers!”, and the bus pulled away.

I cannot pretend to know how difficult that goodbye was.

The night I went into labor with Rhema, I was alone in a bedroom in my parent’s house and I journaled my way through contractions. Brandon was deployed then to Iraq for a year, and I was concerned that he would miss out on key bonding moments with his firstborn. I wrote a prayer in my journal:

May she be the apple of her father’s eye. As he is apart from us, Lord, give him a supernatural, blessed connection to Rhema that will always be. Thank you, thank you, oh thank you my Lord for giving her to us.

Despite the frustrating barriers of autism, the lack of spoken language, and two years now of separation, God has honored my prayer. Rhema and her father have a uniquely special bond. Sometimes I think she understands the idea of father better than anyone simply because of who he is. He settles her, and in an unpredictable world that does not often make sense, she trusts him. If he is there to love her, she’ll be o.k.

They always just pick right back up where they left off – as if no time has passed between them. When he came home last May for two weeks of R & R, we met him at the train station. I let Hope run ahead to greet him while I stayed with Rhema in her carseat. Rhema was fiddling and fighting with her buckle, ready to bolt. For a moment she did not notice the hands trying to help her undo her buckle. But then she stopped, looked up and saw him. A wave of laughter overtook her; she threw her head back and giggled herself right into his arms.

Brandon's homecoming in 2005

Brandon's visit in May 2010

 

That morning a year ago, Hope and I watched Brandon load his bags into the car. He had already explained to her why he had to go away for a while – “To pre-tect us!” she would squeal enthusiastically. To us, Hope has always been like a prized exhibit in a museum. Too precious. A rare, irreplaceable gift. She brings us inexpressible joy, and when you’re away from her you feel like you’ve missed out on something. I don’t know how to go a day without her Hope-ness.

I didn’t know how my husband was going to manage a year without it.

When it was time to go, he said, “Give me a hug, Hope,” arms outstretched.

She came running, and as she wrapped her arms around his neck as tight as she could, she said,

“I’m giving you a big DINOSAUR hug, Daddy!”

And I watched the man hold her and weep. In over a decade of marriage I’d never seen a hooah-hooah-fly-helicopters-jump-out-of-airplanes-soldier cry like that.

This past year Hope had her first first day of school – lost her baby fat and grew tall - turned three – had asthma, swine flu and pneumonia – learned to write her name- learned to swim – turned into a princess and became a fashionista – prayed for her Daddy everyday.

This past year Rhema changed schools and medications-  turned six – learned to ride a bike – healed from lead poisoning – learned to say many new words – learned to trace the letters R and H – lost her first tooth – matured into a lovely young girl.

We cannot wait for the day when he comes home to stay.

B, I thought you might like to see how much your girls have grown up to this past year:

I need to not forget

We’re moving.

My husband received military orders today and it’s officially official. Brandon will be coming home from Iraq sometime in October or November. (Thanks to all of you who have asked!) We’re on the home stretch of a 15-month deployment!

In December we will move to the DC metro area.

This is not what I wanted.

This has been our home for four years. Hope was born here; it’s the only home she’s ever known. My family is here – my parents and younger brother. My dear twin sister and her family are here- we’re just not meant to be apart. Our community and church are here. It breaks my heart to leave behind people I love dearly.

.

And then there’s Rhema.

(Isn’t that always the line? She will always be my subject to approval, my special consideration, my exception clause.)

After three years of tweaking it and working at it she is in an outstanding learning environment. Her school, Futures, is the best of best. Her therapists outside of school are excellent; they know her, teach her and love her so well. Her neurologist of four years cares and understands a little-understood seizure disorder and how it affects Rhema better than anyone.

Everything is in place, and Rhema is thriving. It is finally as it should be.

But we are moving.

We’ve tried just about everything to stay, but, apparently, it’s time to go.

I’ve done my research, I’ve called schools and admissions people in Maryland and Virginia. It’s been discouraging to say the least.

Friends, I’m being called to task on everything I’ve said on this here blog.

And I need to not forget

~That, simply, I believe God loves my daughter more than me and He’ll take care of her.

~That He has always faithfully provided for our every need.

~That if I rehearse His gracious deeds of the past, I will find light for the present. Hope for the future.

It goes something like this:

 

“God, our little girl has autsim. We need the best services, teachers and therapists you got.” Check!

“God, we need our girl to get into a special school NOW, but it has a five-year waiting list.” Check! (We got in in three months).

“God, our little girl has a rare seizure disorder and we need to find a way to treat it.” Check!

“God, we want therapists who are willing to work with her on weekends. Oh, and we need some money to pay for it.” Check, check!

“God, Brandon is deploying for a year. We need help!” Check, check, check!

“God, we need a respite care provider. Oh yeah, and some insurance coverage.” Check!

“God, now we need to move Rhema to another new school. Can you do it?” Check!

~That He will do it again.

~That His plans are better than mine. “In his heart a man plans his course, but the LORD determines his steps.” Prov 16:9

~That a bad attitude is not helpful.

~That cherry blossoms in bloom are, admittedly, pretty cool. (I’m reaching here.)

~That I can lay every fear, every heartache at His feet. And He is my strength and song.

So do not fear, for I am with you;
       do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
       I will strengthen you and help you;
       I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. (Is. 41:10)

.

If you believe these things with me, will you do me a favor in the weeks ahead?

Pray that I remember. Remind me to remember.

.

. 

If you have any connections to the DC area and know of any good autism programs, therapists or doctors, please e-mail me at rhemashope@gmail.com.

Connections

I had forgotten how difficult communication can be when Brandon is deployed. Those first couple weeks after he left… several times a day I would flip open my cell phone to give him a call, forgetting that I could not reach him.

We have to wait for a call or e-mail from him, never knowing when that might come. When he does call, the connection is bad – there’s a delay, and so it seems like we’re talking over each other and most of the time I cannot hear what he’s saying. And of course the calls are never long enough – we talk the big issues fast:

How are the girls? – Fine, How are you? How are you? – Fine, Fine, Where are you? Where? Did you send a check to so and so? … Hello?

Then the call drops and there’s silence.

I don’t mention that Hope’s getting really tall. That she prays for her Angel Cake everyday. That she’s talking back a lot and I’ve got to deal with that and it’s totally new because I’ve never had a child talk back before. That sometimes I just will not do, she just wants her Daddy, and she tells me so. That she is a huge help to me. That she has an incredible memory. That she wants to play the violin… so we better start saving our pennies. That I told her I don’t want her to grow up and turn three years old in 13 days. That she put a patronizing hand on my shoulder and said firmly, “Sorry, Orange Blossom. I’ve got to.”

I don’t mention that Rhema is really beautiful. (He already knows that. But every day I think, Wow, she’s beautiful.) That she’s not sleeping again. That the EEG results are in, and I had to wait all weekend for the doctor to call. That I worry about her relationship with her sister. That she accidentally ate an artichoke!!! That I wonder if she wonders about him and where he is. That she managed to escape again (but don’t worry, I found her). That the other day her teacher said she repeated, “Hope”, “Mom”, “Dad” when looking at our pictures.

I don’t have time to mention all of the gifts and blessings that have been poured out on us. The generosity of people -unbelievable! - the kindness they’ve shown us. That I do get lonely sometimes. And overwhelmed. That I’ve got really, really good friends. That one of our favorite old restaurants opened up in the next town over. That we’ve got our routine, our pattern, things are just fine. That God is so good! That I wear his old Army T-shirts and sweats to keep him close.

*

Every now and then we get to video chat (using Skype). We’ve only been able to do it a couple times since Brandon’s been traveling in northern Iraq. Before he left, he took with him an extra webcam that Jenn sent us. It has been extremely important in helping us stay connected. (Thank you, Jenn!)

I thought that the video chat would be great for Rhema, especially since she does not do well with phones. It was initially disappointing – when Brandon would skype with us, I could not get Rhema to even look at the screen and see him. (Darn, we sure could use some joint attention!) He would call her name over and over, and I would try to get her to look, “Rhema! It’s Daddy.” She would not look, she’d just run away.

The last several times we got to Skype, I closed Rhema in the room. Even though she was bouncing around, never staying still long enough to attend to the computer screen, I told Brandon just to talk to her. “At least she’ll hear your voice,” I said.

And so he talked.

He told her he loved her and missed her and why he had to go away.

She never once showed any sign that she heard him.

Then, the last time that we skyped, several weeks ago, Rhema actually sat in my lap for a few minutes.

I dangled a popsicle above the computer screen.

She looked.

And she saw him.

And he said, “Hi, Rhema.”

And she said, “Hi.”

Homecoming

I’m waiting for a call.

A call to say that he has arrived safely in Kuwait.

Even as he goes out, I am already thinking of his coming in.

I think back to five years ago when a handful of spouses gathered in an old gymnasium in Katterbach, Germany in the dark of night. There were babies and small children, and wives who were suddenly decked out in their best clothes. We were waiting… like the ten bridemaids of the Biblical parable, we were waiting for the groom, with oil in our lamps.

I’ll never forget walking into that gym and seeing the signs that caused a lump to form in my throat.

GodKeptYou1

The first thing I did was to check the manifest. To see, for sure, if my beloved was on the list. He’d said that after a long, hard year he was coming home. But in the Army, you just never know what might happen, so I stared hard at the list until I found his name. And when I did, I bounced an 11 month-old Rhema on my hip, and let my heart rest for the first time in a good while.

The hours dragged on and we chatted, laughed, traded babies and tried to be patient.  Around 2 in the morning, the announcement came that Bravo Company, 3rd of the 58th - deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom – had landed on the kaserne. While in Iraq, they had set up an airfield for coalition aircraft in Saddam Hussein’s hometown of Tikrit, and now they had returned to their home away from home in Katterbach. 

It would still be hours before we could see them, as they had to take inventory and turn in their weapons. It seemed like forever.

Then a screen descended, the lights went out and a music video played.*

The song finished, the screen was raised… and then we saw them. A small, weary company of air traffic controllers, led by my husband. Before being released to their families, they stood almost humbly, in formation. You could hear the tears.

formation1

I know they were praying, quietly thanking God along with us. Thanking God with all their hearts that not one of them, not one, had been lost.

So here am I again. Waiting… for a homecoming.

While I wait, I am aware that we are all waiting for something.

May your waiting make you stronger. 

May you know His peace that passes understanding… while you’re in the in between.

May you know His love surrounds you,

May He be your portion…

in the waiting.

This I pray.

 

Thank you for allowing me to blog ad nauseum about this deployment! Today is a hard day knowing that Brandon is finally flying away. We kept hoping to get an email saying, “Stop! Psych! You’ve been punked.” (Sigh). I know God goes with him…

“Now, Lord, not my will, but Thine be done. I know not what to do; I am brought to extremities, but I will wait until Thou shalt cleave the floods, or drive back my foes. I will wait, if Thou keep me many a day, for my heart is fixed upon Thee alone, O God, and my spirit waiteth for Thee in the full conviction that Thou wilt yet be my joy and my salvation, my refuge and my strong tower.” —Charles Spurgeon

*The following video was played at the homecoming ceremony just before we were reunited: