Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Past the Halfway Point

For some reason I have not gotten past the writer's block on this blog for the last 3 months! Gulp. How can I possibly keep people up to date on three month's worth of data when I can't ever remember what days I worked last week? That's ok though because this is a forgiving audience and I'll do my best. It wasn't for lack of experiences that I didn't write, I think it might have been the opposite. I was so busy "doing" that I never took time for "writing about the doing". It kind of reminds me of nursing. Either I can do the tasks and take care of the patient, while doing a terrible job of remembering to document each of said 29 tasks, or I can meticulously document while ignoring the patient. In my former jobs I used to frantically try to accomplish both, which sometimes ended with headaches, ulcers and other "things" you take home from work. I feel as though I have learned so much this year! I have learned to take everything one step at a time, to not be quite so worried about the little things in life because God can handle those mis-steps I make, which I will make. I can't handle them anyway, I can just give myself ulcers! Anyway, I've been approaching work in that way-do my best and then leave the consequences up to the Lord. Its a much better way to go. I still have 11 hour days without lunch but at least then they are really necessary, not self inflicted in my desire to be the most effiicient-non minute wasting person on the planet! Work has been see sawing between 30-40 hours a week, even with the maximum 4 day work weeks I've taken on. I really enjoy the care and I also find myself looking forward to the drive. Some days I drive through 4 counties-which means that I rack up over 150 miles on the truck. But, I get to see places I've never know existed, meet people at the gas stations, diners and in my "hey, where am I and where is the patient's house?" lost mode that I otherwise never would see. I scout out for neat small businesses-like the meat mini mart 20 miles from here that sells home grown bacon and sausage, or the dinky diner that makes delicious Lou coveted chocolate milk shakes. There is so much history scattered over this area and beautiful little parks and trails, as well as historical buildings. I see the Ohio River, farms, Abraham Lincoln sites of interest and much more in my little drives. I'm tired but much of that I chalk up to staying busy and the underlying thoughts about Lou.


And Him- Together in 35 Days!
Lou is doing well. Like me, he is counting the days until R&R (the mid deployment 2 week break he will get) and he actually started that countdown on the 75 day mark, unlike his wife who has chosen to be more circumspect and not get too excited until the 50th day! But now the 50th day has come and gone and I'm announcing to anyone who will listen-old friends and friends met 2 days ago...that "Yes, my husband is going to be home in 35 days, give or take a few"...happy Snoopy dance interjected and much giggling! I can't believe we're over halfway through at this point. I'm not sure I ever thought it would happen! Anyway, I'll keep you all updated on R&R but at this point it looks like we will have the first two weeks of September together. Lou's folks are going to bring their camper down around Labor Day weekend and stay at the Army campground Camp Carlson, which is 5 minutes from our house. We're planning on campfires and picnics and just being able to spend every WAKING MINUTE together...ok, maybe that's going a little overboard but I don't think so! :)
Lou's job has continued to be challenging and yet he thrives on it as well. He has been given responsibility to lead those 20 or so odd men in his platoon and he continues to do it with enthusiasm. His platoon sergeant is a man whom he respects, a veteran of several deployments who has a lot of common sense and wisdom and is quick to share it with Lou. He is so thankful for his advice and practical help, he can't say enough good things about him! It makes me so grateful to know that Lou has someone who is watching his back and a part of the team. His men and he went through a very difficult end of June as he lost his first soldier to a firefight. The men were conducting a mission through a town and were fired upon from close quarters, the soldier was hit and Lou believes that he took out his shooter (an imam with an AK-47) at the same instant. He was so proud of the boy and took his loss very hard, yet he was able to reach out to his guys and it brought home to them of the uncertainty of life.
 I went to the memorial service held here at Fort Knox and met his father, which was an honor and a difficult time. I think I will never know what to say in these situations no matter how many times I go through it. There is a beginning seating of the family, then the chaplain speaks and offers a prayer. Generally someone sings a hymn, perhaps "Amazing Grace". This is followed by a soldier reading memories of the deceased soldier sent from Afghanistan by the men he served with and under. There is a short eulogy and perhaps a scripture reading and then the sergeant calls out the names of 3 or 4 soldiers who are present. They answer to his "White" and "Jones" with "Here, First Sergeant!" and then, after a pause he calls the name of the fallen. "H____". There is no answer. He calls out "Sergeant H_____". There is still no answer. He finally calls out the soldier's entire name "Sergeant J___ ____ H_____" and still no one responds. There is a pause and then a 3 gun volley is fired directly outside the chapel. It is hard to explain the feelings I have through all this. At the memorial services I attended the pianist played the "Band of Brothers" theme music, "Requiem for a Soldier" at the memorial's end. At this point the family go to the front and pay respects to the soldier's portrait,boots,weapon and dogtags. They are followed by the distinguished guests: colonels,sergeant major,general and wives. Then the rows of soldiers let out and two by two soldiers come to the front and salute the display in a slow 4-second salute. Its a heart breaking scene. I break down each time no matter how I try to hold back.
The week after this encounter Lou ended up with dysentary and became severly dehydrated, needing medical attention. The medics treated him with iv fluids and a much needed rest. He told me he thought he was going to die, the dysentary was draining but he also had gastrointestinal bleeding which they thought was the result of an ulcer. The next week when he and guys began their mission, they were mounted (driving in trucks) and hit an IED. Lou said that the truck ahead of him disapeared in dust and debris after the explosion and he was praying,"Lord, let someone say something!" (through the phone system in the vehicles) over and over again and then through the system came the voice of the truck driver,"Sir, we're all ok and I didn't even spill a drop of my Monster!" (energy drink). The trucks are sometimes equipped with a mine roller which is supposed to take the impact of the IEDs and protect the soldiers. In this case, the truck had one and suffered less damage. The mine rollers are a tricky piece of equipment. They do help in the case of IEDS but they also make the drive agonizingly slow, I want to say something like 10-15 miles per hour. This makes the guys a target for attacks, although it protects them from IEDs. So, its one of those hard calls to make when patrolling. When the guys got back from their mission and "almost blown up" experience there was a box waiting for Lou from Mom Crist. In it she had put some Bibles and Gospel of John booklets along with tracts and goodies. He passed those out and one of the guys spent the evening reading through the gospel of John! Praise the Lord that hearts are changed in such hard dry difficult places! I think that we will have a lifetime of stories to share when he returns, although he does give me a lot of food for though through the many emails we exchange. :)

Fourth of July with Mik and Chris
Back here at home I keep busy but I also spend time relaxing with friends and seeking encouragement. I sometimes feel as though in each situation I begin imagining myself in that place. Sometimes this is really scary as there is so much about war that is tragic and heart breaking. The thought of Lou so far away and of something happening to him can make me feel despondent at times. That verse of Paul's "We despaired even of life". I'm afraid to say that I've felt that way at times. Its been difficult to get past that mental image of life without him-the dreadfulness of it. I felt as though I was sailing along after getting past the first 3 months, and then life turned upside down one night. I had arrived home from Mom and Dad Crist's house up in NJ. I took a vacation there from the 30th of April-10th of May. While I was near Cape May, my friend Mikki was 3 hours away staying with family in Philadelphia for most of the month. She had planned to go home to Kentucky but one thing led to another and she and baby Chris (6 months old) had stayed on until Mother's Day. I got to meet Mik at Fort Benning and when they pcs'd to Knox she was close to delivery. I was very excited to be able to be with her and Demetrius when they had little Chris on Nov 17th, 2010! Demetrius was the proudest dad you ever saw, he was so excited to see his little boy as Mik kept his gender a secret the entire pregnancy. He followed his excited exclamation of, "Its a boy!" immediately with,"What happened to his head???" as Chris had the biggest cone head you've ever seen on a baby! Thankfully it resolved fairly soon after birth and he now is the most adorable little chocolate man you've ever seen. :)
Demetrius had been deployed shortly before Louis and although not to the same exact area he was about 4 hours away from him in Afghanistan. He was a platoon leader as Lou is, in charge of 20 or so men and taking them out on missions daily. Lou and Demet met after they pcs'd to Fort Knox but I remember taking Mik a meal after she had Chris and holding Chris while listening to the guys animatedly discuss politics and life in the "man cave". :) Back to May 10th, I got a call from Mikki that night around 1045pm and she told me that Demet had been killed in action that morning. Much of that evening is a blur. Several friends and I spent much of the night packing and making plans to go stay with her in Philadelphia for what might follow. We didn't know what that was but we wanted to be near her. The next day we drove the 13 hours back to PA and spent 5 there. We were able to be together for the return of Demet's body to Dover AFB. It was a time of so much sorrow and feelings of inadequacy. Those feelings I think still resound with us. What do you say to a friend who has lost so much? How do you get past the intense fear that "My husband could be next"? Only the Lord is able to help us through this, and to comfort Mikki in ways that we will never be able to. So, when I say that this year has been one of intense learning and growth I don't mean it in a catchy cliche way!
There is so much that has happened in the general every day way but this is what has been on my mind for the last several months and it has been hard to find a way to explain it without sounding dramatic or self pitying or both. After saying goodbye to Demetrius and coming back to Kentucky I spent a week where I was constantly in fear, fear that the doorbell would ring, that the sounds of gravel in the driveway were from an MP car, that I would wake up unshowered and yucky to someone standing in my doorway to tell me Lou was gone. Can you imagine hearing a knock on the door and feeling completely nauseated, your heart racing? You go to the door, dreading to look out the window and there stands the postal worker, holding a package too large to fit in your mailbox. You feel a relief that makes you sit down and cry, and berate yourself for being so afraid. But, the next time it happens you go through the same experience all over again. The pizza delivery man accidentally came to our door instead of the house across the street. Doorbell rings and heart starts pounding! Needless to say I was not functioning that week. I spent so much time in self pity and fear instead of giving it to the Lord and telling him," I CAN'T do this, please help me." I felt as though I couldn't continue to work, do the volunteer work at the center, prepare for a homecoming I was uncertain of, and keep the house running while staying involved with the local Army groups. I just wanted to stay under the covers and never come out again until January 2012. Fortunately I am blessed with a pastor who gives wise advice and such good and loving friends and family. These verses specifically spoke to me that week,
Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
and his understanding no one can fathom.
He gives strength to the weary
and increases the power of the weak.
Even youths grow tired and weary,
and young men stumble and fall;
but those who hope in the Lord
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.
Regardless of my energy level or lack thereof, the Lord will NEVER grow weary. He will give his strength for everything we encounter in this life. And, since it is his strength, it won't run low like ours does so many times. Praise the Lord for this!
Much love to you all,

Beautiful Baby Chris at the water park last weekend!

Fourth of July listening to the Army Band at For Knox and eating kettle corn!

The deck that Dad Crist and Jesse cleaned and stained during their 4th of July whirlwind visit to our home. How beautiful it is now!