Iraq Journey

Young Ladies Christian Fellowship

Blissdom Conference ~ Nashville ~ February 4-6 2010

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Because an 18 hour drive is always better with a bit of "event" thrown in

May 31, 2009

A couple weeks ago John found out he’d have an opportunity to have some time off work, so he said, “Hey, I’m gonna have time off.”

And I said, “Hey, let’s go to Colorado.”

And he said, “Hey, that’s a good idea.”

So we did.

What can I say? There’s no better place on earth in either of our minds, and a chance to run away and pretend nothing, you know, DIFFICULT is going on in our lives, combined with the sudden influx of “Enjoy Colorado!” commercials and ads everywhere we look? It was just God. We had no choice.

Our nine fun-filled days were flanked on either end by that wonderful fact of travelling… you know, the part where you actually travel.

We opted to make the trip from San Diego to the Rocky Mountains in one day each way, instead of staying overnight halfway through like we have the past several times we’ve headed up there. It would only be about 18 hours total each way, with stops and all, and we figured we could keep the boys occupied if we were creative enough.

The drive up was beautiful. We left at 3am, watched the sun rising over the desert while the boys slept. Okay, well, John watched it. I was curled up in the front seat preparing for my turn to drive. With my eyes closed. And getting a nice crick in my neck that still hasn’t gone away. We spent those long hours reading and reciting our favorite children’s poems, making it through another chapter of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, coloring on a magnetic doodler, watching Charlotte’s Web and The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, munching grapes, cheese sticks and M&M’s.

So sweet! So idyllic!

It was the drive home that decided to reach out it’s ugly tentacles and cry with a sinister laugh… GOTCHA!

We were thirty minutes outside town and the boys hadn’t gone back to sleep yet. (I don’t know what it is about going home as opposed to getting to the destination in the first place, but we always end up heading south with twice as much stuff loading down our truck, and leaving at least two hours later than planned.) We were driving down the famous and beloved Battle Mountain stretch of highway in 31-degree weather with snow continuing to cover the ground on either side of the road. Yes, it was the end of May, but this IS Colorado, remember? A snowy Memorial Day weekend is rather run-of-the-mill in John’s hometown of 10, 300 feet elevation.

Anyway, so we were driving along. Merritt, our breakfast fanatic, was freaking out because he’d been awake for a whole half hour by now and hadn’t been served a five-course meal yet, complete with pancakes, eggs-over-medium, bacon well done, buttered toast and hashbrowns. Oh, and milk. Lots and lots of whole milk.

We told him a granola bar would have to tide him over for a little while. The poor kid.

While he wolfed down that chocolate and cherry bar (the healthy breakfast snacks of our “to Colorado” trip were long gone, obviously), Troy, on the other hand, was quietly munching his bar, ever. so. slowly. This three year old, contrary to his little brother, thinks breakfast is simply optional. The meal-hierarchy equivalent of Elevenses or Fourth Meal. Unnecessary unless it’s really going to be worth his while and he’s being served an egg burrito with Canadian bacon and cheddar cheese. The chocolate cherry bar was just a’ight in his eyes.

Anyway, again, we were driving along, when, from where I sat in the passenger seat of our lovely and beloved black Titan, I heard the sound every mother longs to hear when she sweetly pats her unborn child and sings him songs of sugar and syrup. You know, that one sound she knows she’ll hear eventually, and spends her days just imagining the preciousness for an entire nine months.




(I’ll spare you anymore descriptive terms, for the sake of those innocent young women who haven’t yet had a child, or at least not one past the age of four months.)

Apparently that chocolate cherry granola bar was going down a little too fast for our 18-month-old and a piece of oat or chocolate or cherry took up residence in his windpipe. But instead of simply coughing out only the offending piece of make-shift breakfast, his little body decided to clear out anything that bore it any resemblance.

John screeched the truck to a halt on the side of that mountain road, in a pull-out clearly provided at just the right time by our God who cares about the “little” things–even errant pieces of granola bar. The thing was, directly beside this road was a river. A river which, like all the rivers in those parts right now, has all but broken out of her preset-by-God boundaries. In other words, the thang was a-ragin’ RIGHT outside my passenger seat door and Merritt’s backseat door.

And remember, it was snowing.

I threw open my door, jumped out of my seat and opened Merritt’s door all in one swift move. The poor baby was just losing everything he’d eaten in the entire past week, and all I could do was loosen his car seat harness and try to catch the, ahem, mess in whatever piece of cloth I laid hands on.

Simultaneously, John was hopping out of his seat as if the truck was on fire, and as I looked over at him, my eye caught sight of Troy.

His blue eyes were wide as he watched the scene unfolding in the car seat next to him. To say his sweet little pale face was turning green around the gills would be an understatement.

John opened Troy’s door just as an encore presentation began on the set to the left.

He’s nothing if not an extremely empathetic brother.

It was 31 degrees. It was snowing. The rebellious river just a couple feet from my OWN two feet was making me a little edgy with it’s spray against my back. I was in jeans and a tank top. My babies were both getting sick at the exact same time. In the car. With a full day of driving ahead of us.

Strange–I didn’t exactly even feel cold in that moment. They say there’s this stuff called adrenaline that sometimes helps with such things.

Call us mean parents, or insensitive, or plain crazy, but once our boys were through with their sad episode and we started the process of cleaning up the rather big mess we had on our hands (quite literally) and both boys decided this was a bit of an interesting turn of events that would best be followed by a period of hysterical laughter on their part… we just decided to join them. On the side of a mountain road. In the late-May snow. In a tank top with a river angrily splashing drops of water at us.

They also say laughter is pretty good medicine. All I know is that it sure seemed to cure our family’s momentary tummy trouble.

“Weeeelp.” I said to John, craning my neck to look back him from the front seat where I sat with a toddler wrapped in my sweatshirt. Both the back doors were open while John was cleaning the car seats with paper towels and baby wipes, so the heater was blasting on our now-nekkid boys while we waited for a minute to find their clean clothes. “At least it was chocolate cherry and not some sort of acidy fruit. We still have seventeen-and-a-half hours in this car today.”

It was a good trip. Really. It was. John just says we’ve now officially been entered into the True Road Trippin’ Families Guild.

Actually, I made that name up. He just said this was pay back for his severe motion sickness that his own parents had to deal with from his infanthood.

Either way, I think it was an honor I’d rather have let slide this time.

Let’s just say this road home included a whole lot more Disney movies and electronic toy playing in place of the sweet and idyllic family read-alouds and coloring books that accompanied our first trip.

(And let me offer my sincerest apologies if you happen to love or are currently eating a chocolate cherry granola bar. I probably should have warned you to stop reading at the beginning. Or to at least put down your snack. Sorry ’bout that.)


May 4, 2009

“It’s your choice.”

He’s said it every one of the few times I’ve talked to him.

It’s my choice. Whether or not we have a relationship. Whether or not I choose to believe the lies. Whether or not I “accept” the life he’s chosen. Whether or not I “take his side” in a battle in which we were all once on the same side–until one person chose to leave the ranks and create his own. A mutiny of sorts. Against his own family… against the woman to whom he’d become one… and against the two who are his own flesh and blood.

He tells me it’s my choice. He tells my brother it’s his choice. He tells my mom–often–that it’s her choice.

But it’s his choice. We all know this in our heads. Most of the time we know it in our hearts. It’s the times we don’t that we find ourselves drowning.

He’s my father. He was my daddy. My hero. My big strong fireman in shining turnouts. The one who rubbed the bridge of my nose to put me to sleep when I was a baby, and taught me to do the same to my own babies. When I was growing up and he’d come home from his 24-hour shifts, we’d all greet him at the door and it was my job to take his black bag and put it back in his room, next to his side of the bed. When I was in elementary school we would wake up early on his days off and go for little mountain bike rides together. We were going to start our own guided mountain bike tour business for families–he’d be in charge of the adults and I’d guide the children. We even made business cards on that first old internet-less Mac computer. He liked grilling in the summer. Making food as flavorful as possible was his specialty. He liked two or three ice cubes in his milk with dinner. He could sit for hours listening to me practice my piano, and loved the sound of me stumbling through a new piece, gaining little bits of victory with each measure. Last summer he told me to never visit without bringing music because he missed hearing me play. He literally spent hours and hours knelt by my bedside, talking with me through my teenage drama. Hands folded under his chin, elbows on the bed, always ending with a bemused and caring smile, saying, “Well, Squirt, let’s pray.” He cried every time he watched Little House on the Prairie or The Waltons. He called me “Squirty” for as far back as I could remember, and rarely called me anything else.

Yes, I know. It sounds like I’m writing a eulogy. I know things have been a bit morose around here–when I’m even actually here. But you all know I can’t be anything but real.

I don’t know if it’s the fact that, as of this week, it’s been six months since the last time I saw the man I called my Daddy. Yes, I did see him one horrible day in December and again the night he packed up his stuff and… left… but that wasn’t my dad. Not the dad I’ve known my whole life. I don’t know if it’s the fact that yesterday would have been my grandma’s birthday–his mother, who would be skinning her son alive if she knew what he’s doing. It’s probably largely tied to watching him kill my mom’s heart a little more every day. Maybe it’s that I’m just weary, so weary, of dealing with this and similar situations.

But it hit me hard this past week. I’m talking hard. The kind of hard that had me crying, sobbing, every day, multiple times a day as the week wore on. I was still moving, still going on with normal life at a million miles an hour and running in circles like a headless chicken. It’s just that my eyelids were so swollen on Sunday morning that I contemplated just foregoing the whole eyeliner and mascara thing altogether. (I didn’t do it, though. At least my vanity is still intact, eh?)

Then yesterday, eyeliner in place and plenty of foundation to hide the eye bags, I drove to church and made my way to the choir practice room. We were doing a new song to open the service and since (all excuses aside) I was just plain flakey and didn’t go to practice last week, I needed some music. I glanced at the title.

Blessed Be Your Name.

New song? To me? Not so much.

I was regretting the eyeliner by the time we got halfway through the song.

Blessed Be Your Name
In the land that is plentiful
Where Your streams of abundance flow
Blessed be Your name

That part is easy, Lord. That was my life. It was good… so good. So idyllic.

Blessed be Your name
On the road marked with suffering
Though there’s pain in the offering
Blessed be Your name

There is pain in this offering, Lord. How do I praise Your name through this tearing away of the foundations? This extreme ugliness?

You give and take away.
You give and take away.
My heart will choose to say,
Blessed be your name.

Then we pulled out the actual choir special. It was a song we’d done for Easter, very dramatic and full of power. I’ve probably sung these words seventy-five times in practice by now, but this seventy-sixth time, I finally listened to them.

We choose to bow
We choose to sing
We choose to crown You the King of Kings
We are not God
We say out loud
Only to You do we choose to bow

Choosing. My choice. Choose to bow. Choose to praise. Choose to say, “Blessed be Your glorious name!”

John and I teach our boys to obey all the way, right away, and with a happy heart. No, they don’t always do it. When they don’t, we tell them to go back and start over. Choose to obey with the right attitude. Obedience comes first… sometimes the heart just follows at a greater distance than other times. But it’s a choice.

My dad is right. I do have a choice here. It’s definitely not the choice he’s looking for–I’m not choosing to succumb to the manipulation, the lies, or an acceptance of this life. I do know this is the choice my Almighty, All-knowing God desires.

It’s with yet more tears splashing my keyboard I say…

Though there’s pain in the offering

My heart will choose to say

Blessed be Your name.