Friday, July 30, 2010

A Message From Daddy

We love you, too, Daddy. We love you very much.

Jellybean Jar Update #1

Have you ever wondered what 800 jellybeans looks like?

Well, now you know.

Here are the two jars of 400 jellybeans each. One is currently on it's way to Mississippi with Jake. The other is sitting atop our microwave. So far Asher has enjoyed a blue and a pink one. Yes, folks, we are down 2 days. So, according to his orders, we only have 398 days to go! We will be tracking the beans and how they "disappear" as the days roll by this year. Please watch with us!

Seriously...could I BE any more blessed?!


Thursday, July 29, 2010


We've spent our final weekend together at home as a family. The last two months have been rather hectic...from Jake being home on some weekends, then gone for all of June, to zipping off 6 and 9 hours in the car to spend time with family before he departs, it's left little time to just "be" as a family in our home, just doing "normal" things.

We've learned and adjusted over the 12 and a half years that we've been together that "normal" is relative and it's ever-changing. Sometimes "normal" is not seeing each other for days or weeks on end...sometimes "normal" is not getting what you've hoped and dreamed for, sometimes "normal" is disappointing. This weekend we tried to be "normal."

We pulled out Chutes & Ladders and Go Fish for the first time with Asher. We tried to engage him in playing by spinning the plastic spinner, by moving the pieces around the board, by helping to make matches, by asking the other partner to "Go Fish!" It was laughable attempting to play with a two and a half year old, but it was FUN and it was NORMAL. At one point Jake had his hands maxed out with 3 fingers in different areas on the board to mark each of our respective spaces because the kid pieces mysteriously were removed and Asher was off drumming on something. We laughed and had a good time.

I kept telling Jake, "Let's just be normal..." but what I meant was, "Let me try to not fall apart every time you hold me," or "Let me not think about how this will be the last time for a long time that you do this or that with Asher," or "Let's just BE and not think about what is inevitable." I laugh to myself and think that "normal" is arguing about him possibly leaving on deployment, how his choice to be in the military has affected our family, how it still hurts when I think about the last deployment. Well, obviously at this point, it's a little late for that, so even being so very "normal" would be abnormal at this point, or at least fruitless...and it probably was fruitless in the first place, as my mother continually reminded me.

At Mass, Monsignor asked Jake to stand and gave him a special blessing. When he stood, the congregation clapped. Asher excitedly clapped along, having no idea what was truly going on. I held Jake & Asher's hands as Monsignor offered the blessing in front of all. Jake kept his head bowed and I did not look around. Somehow, we both held it together. As we sang the recessional hymn, I looked around and saw people...some whom I do not even personally know, wiping at their eyes. These parishioners among us were touched, grateful, appreciative, and empathetic of the sacrifices that we will all go through in this next year. That meant a lot to me.

It was very bittersweet to videotape Jake reading Asher's favorite bedtime stories. While Asher napped on Sunday, Jake sat in the living room and I recorded him reading everything from Now I Eat My ABC's to My Daddy is a Hero. Jake did a great job of holding it together, only getting choked up one time, while I had to take intermittent breaks to compose myself between stories. These videos of Jake will be invaluable gems to both Asher and myself when we need or want a "daddy fix." It will be special to be able to see and hear Jake reading some of Asher's favorite books, especially since Jake is such a hands-on daddy with our regular routine. And, we made sure our 800 jellybeans (400 for Jake, 400 for Asher & I) were secure in their new plastic containers.

There were lots of tears, and it was a difficult separation. However, last night Jake appeared home for one final goodbye. Again, we were going to attempt to be "normal"...the past weekend it was more difficult for me...I kept crying, but we were doing so many things that were just NOT normal for us. So last night we just did normal things...we did a little laundry, we played, I painted my nails, we ate dinner, and we hugged without falling to pieces. We talked and laughed, and even argued a bit....but that's NORMAL for us! We didn't pretend like this wasn't happening, but instead, we just enjoyed the moments as they came and didn't anticipate what was to come. This time I didn't feel like I was battling an unseen clock, fighting for more minutes with my husband. I just soaked in the moments that we did have, and I think he did, too.

Of course, I can't say that there were no tears...because there were. At 4 AM this morning, he quietly snuck into Asher's room. Our tiny, sweet son was sleeping snug in his big race car bed. Jake, in his ACU's knelt by the bed and covered our little man with kisses. I had to turn away. When he was putting on his rucksack and packing up his truck for the last time for a long time, we were both tearful. We held each other and cried and told each other "I love you." And then it was time for him to go. He climbed into his truck in the dark, with the bright, full moon high in the sky, and two stars to guide the way, and he drove away. I watched him from the back porch. I don't know if he didn't see me, or he couldn't look, but he did not wave. He was ready to leave, and he was leaving on his terms.

Today his official orders begin, and tomorrow is his official send-off ceremony. We will not be in attendance, at his request, and we believe this choice is truly best for our family. We've been through it before, and it is something we choose not to go through again. The goodbye ceremony is anything but normal. It's sad, and long, and just drags out the inevitable. Therefore, we will continue on with our daily routine, pray Psalm 91, think of each other, and look forward.

Today Asher went to day care. It is "blue" week and he was invited to wear blue today. He is wearing a blue shirt, some blue overall shorts with cars and trucks, and his blue Crocs. He was a bit grumpy, so I decided to let him pick out his first special jellybean this morning (I know, breakfast of champions, right?). Of course he picked BLUE, and of course he was happy as he went out the door with Grandma Taxi back in service!

As I turned on the radio driving to work today, the words to a song on K-Love by Russ Lee lifted my heart and gave me peace:

I smile when I think about the way You turned my life around
I smile when I think about the happiness in You I've found
I'm so amazed at what Your love has done
When I think the best is yet to come.....I smile.
And I did smile. I thought it was a good, normal way to start my day.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

This is it...

The time has finally come for me to actually leave behind all the people I love and to say goodbye to my wife, my son, my family and friends for the next year. It is a strange sensation anticipating the send off that is up is strange because I have asked my family not to drive the three hours up and endure more than 2 hours of the ceremony, only to watch me get on a bus, leave and then drive another three hours home. If I have learned anything from driving back and forth from Boone, Ia and Des Moines, Ia it is that the long stretch of Interstate 80 can be a very lonely place...and it gives you way too much time to think and dwell on things.

I do want to take this opportunity to also say thank you to all of our family and friends that came to the house on Saturday to say goodbye and to wish me well. It means more to me and Emily than many of you will ever know (simply because I'm not good at expressing it!) and thank you to those that expressed regrets for not being able to make it.

Another piece of information I wanted to share is my mailing address before I head over to Afghanistan. However, because this is a public blog, I ask that you contact myself or Em directly for the address.

Again, thank you to all who have given me and my family support and truly means the world to me.


Friday, July 9, 2010

The Jellybean Jar

I've come up with a way to help us count down the days that Jake is away. We don't have his orders yet, but I assume when he does get them that the intention of him serving approximately 365 days will be contained within.

365 days is a lot. It feels like a lot, it looks like a lot when you flip through 12 months on a calendar. Who wants to cross off the days on a calendar when it seems like there are so many?

So...I've decided to do something fun every day.

The Jellybean Jar

Who doesn't like jellybeans?

I will create 2 for Jake, and one for Asher & I. First I thought about chocolate...but Jake will be going to a desert climate, and chocolate is not likely to remain unmelted in all stages of this deployment! Plus, if I ate a piece of chocolate every day, I think I'd probably be a) sick of chocolate, and b) much more overweight than I already am!

Thus...jellybeans. Again, who doesn't like jellybeans?! 2 jars of for him, and one for us. At the beginning the jar will be very full...lots of colors, lots of beans, and look like an endless supply. But it's not an endless supply. I will carefully count out exactly 365 beans into each jar. And every day, Asher (or I) can eat one in anticipation and great hope of Jake returning. And every day, Jake will eat his jellybean and think that he is one day closer to coming home.

So....who doesn't like jellybeans now?

The Labyrinth: Joyful Journey, Paths of Peace

We spent a wonderful Independence Day weekend in Edina, MN for Jake's mom's family reunion. As always, plenty of laughter, lots of babies, staying up way too late, and delicious food.

We enjoyed Mass on Sunday at St. Patrick's in Edina. Prior to Mass, we were invited to walk the labyrinth in memory of Jake's aunt JoAnne, who passed away in May after a 7 month battle with pancreatic cancer. JoAnne was one of Jake's biggest supporters while he was overseas the last time...she mailed to him probably more than myself and his mom! JoAnne made communication with Jake her labor of love...postcards, notes, and letters were sent his way, and I know it meant so much to him that she offered her care and love of him in this manner.

Part of the information about the labyrinth states that, "The labyrinth is an ancient symbol found across many cultures and around the world. Labyrinths are often confused with mazes, but are actually very different.

Mazes are intended to puzzle and confuse you with many possible turns and dead ends. In contrast, a labyrinth has just one path to the center, with no decisions to make to reach the goal.

Accordingly, the journey through a maze is vastly different than a labyrinth walk. Mazes can be stressful, confusing and require concentrated thinking to successfully reach the center. However, walking a labyrinth requires simple focus on the path immediately underfoot, letting the labyrinth guide you along the single pathway to the center."

I found this a wonderful activity. I have never walked a labyrinth before, and I prayed while I walked the path that I would have peace about this upcoming journey. I reflected on JoAnne, her life, her family, her legacy, and her spirit to stay faithful and fight, even in the midst of her greatest battle. I thought about her support of Jake, and how meaningful it was to him. Jake was walking ahead of me, but the way that the labyrinth turned and twisted made us come in contact with each other quite silently we'd reach out and squeeze each others' hands as we passed along our respective ways. The sun was shining, puffy white clouds hung overhead in a beautiful blue was a very relaxing experience on a quiet Sunday morning.

Another portion of the pamphlet about the labyrinth states, "There are many ways to experience the labyrinth walk. The most common use of the labyrinth is as a spiritual tool, a way of silencing the noise and turmoil in our busy lives, for centering and meditative prayer. The slow, rhythmic walking, back and forth, eases the mind, and acts as a full-body prayer.

Walk with an open mind and an open heart. Walking a labyrinth is like taking a walk with God."

At one point in my walk, I looked down at the rocky gravel path. A sharp, shiny stone caught my eye and I reached down and picked it up. Holding it in my hand, I thought about the difficult times, the jagged parts of life that pierce our hearts and bodies....the parts that really hurt. I thought of JoAnne... and I prayed for peace. I continued along the path, and again saw another glint from a rock in the path. I reached down and picked it was heart shaped. I thought about God's love for us, the way he holds all of us in the palm of his hand, even in, and especially in those moments when we are in the midst of a storm or walking in the valley of the shadow of death.

JoAnne, although no longer present in body, was with us this weekend as we gathered. In memories shared, in quiet chats, in smiles, and in our hearts....she was there. In a photograph taken on the morning of the 4th of July parade, a bright ray of sun shone down into the center of the group of cousins. JoAnne's second daughter was sitting there in that spot, holding her young son. The bright light got so intense that the group separated to make an open spot, where one person could have sat. In some way, I believe that was JoAnne...letting us know she was with us.


Wednesday, July 7, 2010

What I have learned: First 45 + days...

1. Kids grow up so fast! In just the short time that I have been gone, my son has learned so much and developed so much of the person he will become. He is able to ope his door now, comment (semi) appropriately during conversations between Em and I and become so much more perceptive than he ever was before.

2. My wife and son will be okay with me gone. This is something that I hoped for, but is not easy to swallow when the realization is made. I see what Em is able to do on her own and for herself and for Asher and I swell with pride, however there is still a tug at my heart knowing some of the things she is doing on her own are things that I used to take care of.

3. I have started to transition into the worst-case scenario mindset. What I mean is that I am prep'ing myself for the worst and have started to "compartmentalize" my mind and push the "nice" and "wholesome" things into the deep recesses of my personality so as not to show them to anyone, for if some of that were to come out, it could be perceived as weakness and exploited. The memories of my wife, son, family and friends have to stay hidden as to stay pure and untouched by what I am going to see and experience.

4. My family is truly blessed to have the people around us we do. Our family and friends have accepted what I do and have more than stepped up to the plate to help us and cover for me while I am not there. I know that my family is taken care of by other family members and friends I have left behind. It takes some of the sting out of having to load up my truck at 4 a.m. and drive off knowing there are people that I can actually trust to take care of the two people in this world I love the most.

5. That I never want to pressure my son to make the some of the same choices I have made. I know what is at stake in this fight, but I don't want him to be scared or tainted by it. I don't want him to think that I would ever expect military service from him or expect him to out do or prove anything to me. I have learned that no matter what he does, as long as he is happy and finds some kind of fulfillment in it, I will support him 1000%.