10 Years & 24 Babies

Christmas 2002 was good.  I was pregnant with our first child, we were able to spend time with family, and we had the best of friends just down the street to share more good times with.  Michael was in the Navy and we were stationed at CBC Gulfport with NMCB 133.  We were enjoying the last few months of home port, knowing that soon the battalion would deploy, bound for Rota, Spain. We were not a nation officially at war, though the last deployment had started with a bang- quite literally, as just a few days after Michael left, our country was devastated by 9/11.

Christmas stand down, a few weeks of mostly vacations, was not quite over for the battalion.  But yet, the phone rang at 9pm, calling the entire 600+ in.  It was another 13 hours before I saw Michael again, when he came home for some much needed sleep after the unexpected all nighter.  But by then, word had spread throughout the base and families, that they were loading cargo planes.  The first wave of our Seabees would be leaving the next morning, bound for the Middle East.

The next few days were a blur, as preparations were made to deploy unexpectedly early and to an unexpected location.  I was nervous for many reasons.  Being pregnant while your husband goes to war is never the dream.  The fact that he had been hospitalized 8 times in the past year, and that his battalion seemed unaware added to the fear.

But there were these women.

I was surrounded by some of the bravest and strongest women I’d ever met.  Women who were raising children mostly alone, who had faced many more deployments than me, and who literally kept the home fires burning.  And men too.  Days before our husband’s and wives left,  we gathered in a base chapel, for a family briefing.  We were told limited info on the mission and destination.  Not even a country was named, though we believed they were headed to Kuwait to prepare for the Iraq invasion.  (We were right.)  I looked around at these women and knew I was in the company of the best.

One of those, was my rock.  She lived a quick walk away, had a few more deployments under her belt, and was pregnant with their second child.  She fed me and kept me going.  Another one was my example.  She was the wife of the battalion Commanding Officer, the mother of two teenagers, and wise.  I’ll never forget her answer to my question of how she stayed so strong.  She told me that she didn’t.  That the mornings her husband left, she said goodbye at home, and cried.  She could barely get out of bed she cried so much, but not for long.  After that first day, she picked up and started life.  She made me know it was okay to be sad.  But it was also okay to enjoy life while they were gone.  Other women were simply my friends.  They shared fears and tears, but even more, just shared life and laughs.

My rock and I were due about 2 weeks apart from each other, both in June.  My husband was scheduled to come home and discharge from the Navy, hopefully just in time to see our son born.  Her husband was in for the duration, and we knew would miss the birth of their daughter.  The plan was for me to be with her, and have the joy of being the first to meet that sweet girl.  But first, we were going to have a day of lunch, pedicures, and a movie.  It was May 24.  By the time we ate our salads, I realized she was checking her watch frequently.  While we had our toes painted, I noticed she was uncomfortable.  When we set out for the car, I knew we weren’t seeing a movie.

You’d think that the almost 9 months pregnant woman pushing the wheelchair with the laboring 9 months pregnant woman in it would attract attention and get us some help.  No such luck.  But we laughed.  And laughed.  Several hours later, the most beautiful baby girl was born.  I was in love.  Her daddy was leaving on a convoy into Iraq just a few hours later where he would have no access to email, so getting photos and news of her arrival to him was top priority.  I spent the next few weeks loving on her as often as possible, and in disbelief that I’d have my own very soon.

Michael made it home the first week of June, with about 10 days to spare before my due date.  Drew has always had his own time frame for things, and being born was no different.  When he was 6 days late, I packed my bag in the car and announced that I wasn’t coming home from my doctor’s appointment that day, they were going to keep me.  My blood pressure, which had been high all pregnancy, was high enough that inducing was needed.  It was June 24.  After a rough labor and delivery, Drew was born at 8:56pm in the same room I’d witnessed my friend’s daughter born in.

He was just as beautiful.  We laughed about the irony of our babies both being born on the 24th, and in the very same room.

Ashley, 4 mos & Drew, 3 mos

A month later, as we were packing up our home and preparing to take our newborn and forge a new life, I got a phone call.  A friend of ours who was due with their first any day, was in labor.  We’d been through pregnancy together, and I could do nothing but laugh.  Because it was the 24th.  Amazingly enough, her precious son arrived later that day in the very same room.

May 24.  June 24.  July 24.  In the same room of Keesler Air Force Base, Mississippi.

Leaving a few days later was the hardest thing I’d ever done.  I knew I’d always remember those days of fear that turned into days of Joy, surrounded by women of strength and character.

It’s now been 10 years since I helped welcome the first of the 24 babies.

A month later we met our own son.  And a month after that we welcomed one more to the world, as we said goodbye and turned our world upside down by leaving the security of jobs, in lieu of the comfort of being together.

So much has happened in these 10 years since.  But I cherish those days as much as any I’ve ever had.  I learned that I was stronger than I thought, that joy can come through pain, and that love is stronger than anything.  I pray our 24 babies grow to know the same.

Hope, Far and Wide

Next week will be nine years since I sat at the memorial service of a young man, beyond thankful that my husband had just returned home safe from the middle east, just in time for the birth of our son. That young man was killed in Iraq and was part of my husband’s battalion, NMCB 133.

I told his mom that I’d make sure my son knew of hers. I didn’t know him, but knew somehow that having others remember him through the years would be important to her. I’ve held true to that and again today told Drew about Wayne Bollinger and about what it means to sacrifice.

Today is dedicated to those who didn’t return home, but I remember most those who haven’t even had a body come home. Those are the ones I can now relate to the most, and think about those families tonight. The ones who can’t organize searches, can’t walk where their loved one last walked, and have little hope that someone will step forward with answers. There are over 83,000 of these today. Over 83,000 who are still remembered and missed and not home.

Sometimes as families of missing we get discouraged, but even those missing for many years on other continents come home sometimes. This year alone, 36 service members have been returned home to their families, to finally bring answers and healing. The earliest lost among them was in 1943. Read about them here.

There is real hope for us all, no matter the timing, no matter the answers. Here’s praying for answers sooner than the 69 years it took the family of Radioman 1st Class Harry C. Scribner, U.S. Navy. But today I’m thankful for the reminder that hope should never be lost, and for those who have given us the freedom to have true hope.

Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid. John 14:27

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Growing through Crisis

Ten years ago our nation was in crisis, a crisis greater than we had seen in our generation.  It’s the type of thing that makes us think back to the exact place and time when we learned that our world was forever changed.  But on a personal level, we were already in a bit of crisis.  Michael and I had just married and been stationed in Mississippi.  We were just learning the extent of his illness when he was deployed on September 6th.  A few days later he was in the hospital yet again, thousands of miles away from me, and watched the horror of the 11th from his hospital bed.  It was such an uncertain time, as a portion of his battalion was quickly sent to Afghanistan and we didn’t know what was next.

Since then we’ve faced more crisis, including more health issues than I could have imagined, times of financial struggle, loss of loved ones, and the constant struggle of the search for Austin.

Sometimes we ask where God is in the midst of such crisis.  I was reminded yesterday of a verse that speaks so much.  Romans 8:28 says “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, whohave been called according to his purpose”   I have to also be reminded though, that what I see as good isn’t the same as what God does.  I see it from a selfish standpoint.  God sees the whole picture, of both my life and the world.  For me the key is that in all things God works.  He doesn’t sit idly by.  He is working, moving, shaping.  He is there.

It is in times of crisis that we allow God in, that we allow His work to be most seen.  And it is through crisis that the most growth and change can occur.  None of us want it.  We would all let it pass us by.  But yet, it comes.  And for those who let themselves see God work, and experience His love, we grow.

I’m amazed by people around us who continue to face crisis with strength.  I think it’s because they have had so much opportunity to grow and have God work. Imagine a life with no challenge, a life with no crisis.  There can be little growth.  Same for our country, our churches and our families.  Through much pain comes much greatness.

Today we are stronger as a nation, and we’re stronger as a family.  I don’t know what tomorrow holds, but I have to assume it won’t be any easier, but at least I’ll be stronger.