Friday, December 4, 2015

December 4th

This is going to be an unusual blog post, because I am going to share about some big life changes that have been happening in our family- the primary one being that Keith is medically retiring from the military. Because of this, we will be moving back to his home state to be with family.

Back in June of this year, Keith turned me to after he had finished praying and he said, “Jesus just spoke to me- He said that if I have to leave the military, not to worry, everything will be taken care of.”

This was interesting and relevant news, as Keith had been having increasing trouble with his back and knees. Also, Keith had already passed up his third year working as a Cadre in the Warrior Transition Battalion. This job was a prestigious special assignment which took him out of his usual tanker company; he was only one of three who received the position out of thirty who applied for it. Typically, this job is allowed for two years, as the stress level is considered too high for soldiers to remain in the position any longer. Keith had asked for an extension of a third year and it had been granted, but now the third year was over.

This job had brought many benefits with it- the most wonderful and important one that we were able to complete the adoption of our daughter Merissa while in the same location because of the two year job lock. If Keith had been working in his usual company, we never would have known when or where the Army might have moved us- they could do so at any time. We could have been in the middle of an adoption process- which can last over a year in length- and suddenly be moved to another state. But Jesus put us in the right place at the right time for the birth of our daughter.

However, Keith’s job as Cadre was a strain on him, as he was on call twenty four seven for any soldiers who were high risk for medical emergencies. He assisted all of his soldiers with medical, emotional, family and financial problems, directing them to resources that could help them and completing all the paperwork that each resource and step required.

Although Keith is a Staff Sergeant, his position as Cadre meant that he was responsible for soldiers who not only outranked him, but who in the normal course of his career, Keith would never even have spoken to, such as a full bird Colonel, which is the rank just below General.

One of the soldiers with whom Keith bonded the most was a Colonel D. He ended up being a family friend, coming over to mow the lawn when Keith was away at military school in Texas, and helping Keith move into our new house in only two days while I remained out of state with new born Merissa, waiting for our adoption papers to be finalized- we couldn’t cross the state lines with her until our dossier was complete and it took longer than usual, and our new house was finished and ready to be closed right at the same time. We couldn’t have moved in without Colonel D’s help.

Sadly, very soon his health began to go downhill. The death of Colonel D hit Keith quite hard. By that time, he had also lost two other soldiers. Also, the team that Keith had worked with had all been dispersed by Army orders to other jobs and states, and new policies were being implemented that increased paperwork and caused Keith growing frustration. This was all happening right around the end of his third year, so it was definitely time for a new position, but where?

During Keith’s first deployment, he had been stationed at a FOB, or forward operating base in northern Iraq, serving as a tank gunner and going out for long range patrols. On one of these patrols, his tank ran over a tank mine. Keith was sitting just under the forward hatch, which had been open, and he was thrown by the force of the blast up out of the tank, unconscious.

If the solid metal hatch had been closed, Keith would have died immediately upon impact. However, when Keith came to, he was outside the turret, with his tank on fire. He pulled the emergency fire handles on the outside of the tank and went back inside to see if his driver was still alive.

The driver was yelling and couldn’t get the hatch open. The tank turret was blown off the ring so it couldn’t traverse and it was blocking the hatch. So Keith turned off the manual fuel controls from inside the tank, went outside and tried to pry the driver’s hatch open along with Sg. F. Together, they pulled the driver out.

EOD came out and said they were all very lucky to be alive, because if they had hit the tank mine an inch to the left or right, none of them would have been alive. The way it had hit the tank, it was directly under the turret and the main gun and computer components had absorbed most of the shrapnel and blast. (Keith wants me to add that this is a summation of the event which involved many others such as QRFs, Security and other tanks.)

However, after the rest of that deployment and his third one, Keith’s back and knees were never the same again, and over time, the injuries were getting worse, partly because Keith never took good care of himself and hated to acknowledge pain. When we were first married, I watched him jam his fractured ankle into his army boot, lace it up and walk out the door for twelve hours of loading up tank equipment onto freight trains to prepare to ship them out for deployment, all without even an Aspirin.

But he could not keep going like this, and if he went back to his company, that would be the expectation. Around this time, Keith unexpectedly met up with an old friend of his and learned that this man was going to a job interview. He invited Keith to go along, as he knew that they needed someone with his work experience. It would be another special assignment.

Keith said why not and went along and knew from the interview that the job was likely his. This was a big deal and we were very excited, and even more excited when we learned a few days later that it was his. A position like that is unique and very hard to come by.

However, he had first to receive permission to leave his job at the WTB, and initially, his immediate superior outright told Keith that he wouldn’t be granting that permission, because in his opinion, Keith should not receive another highly sought after special assignment, but should go back to his original tank company and serve there.

That next day, Keith was going down the steps of the legal building when he unexpectedly met the commander of his potential new job, who recognized him and greeted him, asking Keith how he was.

“Well, sir, not good,” Keith replied, and explained the difficulty he was having.

When he heard the problem, this man laughed. His position of authority in the Army ranking set him so far above Keith’s superior that this trouble was simply amusing to him. He said not to worry and that he would take care of it and the next day, the trouble ended and Keith was cleared to go. His official orders were given seven days after his interview.

All this time, I was wondering about what Jesus had said to Keith about leaving the Army, but I thought maybe those words were meant for another time, so I tucked them away.

In late June, we went to visit Keith’s mother after she had had several difficult back surgeries. We went first to Keith’s father’s house, arriving in the afternoon. Keith’s father has a beautifully landscaped back yard with a stone courtyard, bird baths, flowering trees and a small, well-kept wooded area.

I’ve always enjoyed this, but this time,  Merissa was old enough to go running down the path on her own. Watching her run with confident and curious joy into this beauty had a deep and resounding impact on me. I realized in a new way that this house was part of her family heritage.

Until this point, Keith and I had always planned and eagerly looked forward to retiring out West after his twenty years of service. However, in that moment, I realized that my priorities had changed; I wanted us to retire close to family. When I spoke to Keith about it, he did not take much convincing to agree, but we still had four more years to go before retirement, or so we thought.

After we returned to Georgia and not a month or so after receiving his new position, HRC gave Keith orders to move to a new post. This is hard to explain for civilians, but although Keith had begun his new job here, when orders to report for duty to a new post come down from HRC, nothing and no one gets in the way of those orders.

In this case, the new duty assignment was going to be located so far into the middle of the desert that living off post isn’t even an option, as there is nowhere else to live. This Army post is a training center. Keith himself has trained there- when we first met he was out there in the middle of his four week training cycle with his tank crew.

The problem was that Keith would now be running those four week long training cycles, with one week off, back to back to back. Well, Keith and I knew there just was no way his back and knees could stand up to the strain, especially considering that in the course of his mission training in Kentucky and Georgia, he had been hospitalized twice with heat exhaustion, each of which make a recurring one more likely.

For me, the decision was simple. Everything fell into place. Keith would medically retire early, everything would be taken care of, just as Jesus had told us, and we would retire close to family! For Keith, this was a devastating blow, as he had done everything he could in order to reach his twenty years military service, which is something very few people ever achieve.

It was particularly frustrating to him because if the Army would just retract those orders, he could easily serve the military in his new position, which was not physically demanding, and yet required of him all his years of experience as a tanker. But the Army does not work on an individual basis, it works by numbers and it didn’t matter.

Eventually, Keith made the difficult decision to medically retire after sixteen years of service. At his first appointment, his doctor was flat out shocked at the state of his health and asked him how it was possible that he was still in active service at all.

Right after that, we were told by our property manager that the family that had been renting our house in Colorado would not be renewing their lease. We knew that that by November we’d be carrying two mortgages at a time when our income was in the middle of an uncertain adjustment.

This was quite a blow, but we put our trust in Jesus, and chose to believe that it would turn out even better this way. When the renters moved out, we discovered that the property was badly damage by neglect and misuse, and so Keith flew out there for a week.

During Keith’s time in Colorado, he over-did it and he came back with severe pain in his right knee, such that he willingly went to the hospital and allowed them to stick a needle in his knee and draw out two tubes of fluid. My husband hates needles. The doctor told him there was so much wrong with his knee that he didn’t know where to start explaining it, but for one thing, he had no cartilage left at all, and that Keith’s only option was a knee replacement surgery, but at thirty five, Keith is too young for it.

For almost a week, Keith was in agonizing pain, unable to walk without crutches and mostly never leaving the couch. When I asked Jesus to please help me understand Keith continuing in such pain, Jesus reminded me of His words to Mary, Martha and Lazareth- “This sickness will not end in death, but is for the glory of God.” Then I knew that no matter how much suffering we might grow through, I would hold onto my faith that Jesus heals and that in the end, God’s glory would shine through.

Just when Keith’s knee was starting to improve, he woke again in extreme pain, hardly able to turn from his back onto his side. The pain had kept him up all night. When I learned this, my heart sank. Pray for him, Jesus told me.

I put my arms around his shoulders and prayed for him, but nothing seemed to change, and Keith simply fell asleep. At eight thirty, I heard Keith coming down the stairs. When he came into view, he was walking for the first time on his own feet, holding both his crutches up in one hand and looking at me with this intent look on his face. He has continued to get better and my hope is that he will not need surgery at all for a knee replacement.

During this time, we have faced more uncertainty than at any other time in our marriage. Part of this was that for a while, Keith was not entirely sure that going back home was Jesus’ plan for us and kept thinking of returning to Colorado. I was sure that Jesus wanted us to go home. I had seen ourselves planted deeply, stable and peaceful, able to support and provide shelter for others.

This was a particularly trying time for us, because we didn’t want to argue with one another- even though it was very tempting! I was constantly feeling as though I had to insist, but Jesus kept telling me not to, but to trust Him to speak to Keith in His own way and in His own time.

One night when we were outside enjoying the evening air, Keith told me that he’d been having dreams of buying and renovating his childhood house. “It’s the perfect house for us. It’s a one story brick ranch, well built, with a basement on an acre of land out on the edge of town. It’s old fashioned on the inside, but we could fix that. They don’t build houses like that anymore.”

“You mean you’ve been day dreaming about it?” I asked.

“No, actually dreaming- two or three nights now I’ve had this dream,” he answered.

As I write this, there are packing boxes slowly filling up hallways and entryways- soon we will have this house on the market as well, and most of our things in storage.

I feel as if we have been riding down a river that has gotten narrower and narrower and now we are entering white water rapids. I don't know how everything will work out- where we will be living six months from now, or what Keith's career will be, but I know Jesus will guide us all along the way. We have felt surrounded and upheld in peace, a peace that passes understanding.

Next week, I will continue on sharing from my journal, but I want to give a head's up- the grace that Jesus extended to me in what I have shared so far is going to continue on for months and months and months. I know this because I already lived it.

I know it is shocking sometimes to see the way in which I responded to Jesus and to hear the outpouring of His grace, loving-kindness and mercy to me in return, but I must share it that way because that is the way it happened. I would respond in a very different way now.

Also, I think it is possible when reading those journal entries, which are shared all condensed together, to imagine that I live in some spiritual, dreamy haze, but I am a real person and what I am sharing is from my real life. My life has been forever changed by and is overflowing with the love and presence of Jesus as I serve and love others, but this service is not ephemeral.

I share my personal journal because Jesus, my living Lord and Savior, asks me to do so, and it is my greatest pleasure out of love and profound reverence to obey Him to the very best of my ability, putting my trust in Him always. Jesus told me that my life proclaims His grace, and so it does.

One of my prayers is the twenty third Psalm and I will pray it here now-

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, because You Yourself are our Good Shepherd, we will have everything that we need! You help us to lie down in peaceful green pastures where we are fed on good and nourishing food and You lead us beside the peaceful still waters where it is easy to drink and be refreshed, and You restore our souls from the blows of daily living while we rest with You. You lead us in the gently, upward winding paths of righteousness, not because we have earned it, but because of Your name's sake.

Even though we walk though the valley of the shadow of death, we will fear no evil, because You, the risen and glorified Lord Jesus Christ, are with us- You are the Life and the Light of the world, dispelling the shadows in Your loving presence. Your shepherd's rod and staff comfort us, because You protect us and guide us, keeping us close to Your side. You prepare for us a table in the presence of our enemies, taking even what was meant for harm and turning it to a rich feast of good things that cannot be lost, for they are found eternally in You, Lord Jesus.

You anoint our heads with oil, refreshing us and anointing us with Your presence so that we can grow in the knowledge of You, opening our eyes to the truth that frees us from fear and so our cup of joy in You, Lord Jesus, overflows us!

Day after day, sheer goodness and loving mercy will chase us down with loving intent and everywhere we turn, we will find Your goodness and mercy, and Beloved Lord Jesus, we will live with You in Your very house forever and ever.

We depend on the Lord alone to save us.
Only He can help us,
protecting us like a shield.
In Him our hearts rejoice,
for we are trusting in His holy name.
Let Your unfailing love surround us, Lord,
for our hope is in You alone.
-Psalm 33:20-22

Through each day the Lord Jesus
pours His unfailing love upon me,
and through each night I sing His songs,
praying to God who gives me life.
-Psalm 42:8