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A little over a week ago, I got a message that my longest childhood friend had a seizure and went into cardiac arrest. Last Saturday morning I got the news that he was not going to recover and he passed away.  I was devastated.  I still am. I am struggling so hard with the grief.

Over the years we’d find each other and stay in touch then we’d drift apart.  It only took a quick catch up for us to pick up where we left off and keep right on rolling with life.  The last text I got from him read, “thinking about you.” He didn’t have children, but I shared our adoption story about Olivia and he was excited about exploring that option to build their family.  That will never happen.   I haven’t seen him since we were in our early 20s and he showed me all over Texas.  We found a bar just across the border that took travelers checks and we drank Corona out of faded bottles and terra cotta glasses.  That was definitely one of the best trips of my life and the memories are as vivid as if it happened yesterday.  I’ve never met his wife, but she has been kind enough to keep me up to date with what was going on and she was gracious enough to accept our special friendship.  I’ll meet her for the first time when I travel to Houston for the celebration of his life instead of the plans he and I started making for next year.

He touched my heart and my soul so deeply.  He was heavy metal and I’m more of a country and 80s girly-girl.  He was a drummer at heart and I can’t keep a beat.  I believe we were soul mates (of the best friend type; not the marrying type) and, no matter what direction our lives carried us, we always found our way back to each other when we needed it.

This week was one of “those” weeks that I would normally lay my trials and struggles on his shoulders and he would encourage me and talk me through them until I was calm again.  So many times I picked up my phone to call him, but I couldn’t.  I long to hear, “Hey, girl… It’s JT” one more time. I only hope he knew just how important he was to me and that I cared for him so deeply.

It’s not fair that he lost his life at the young age of 38.  It’s not fair his wife of a few years is a widow.  It’s not fair his mother lost her son just a few short weeks after losing her mother.  I know God has a plan for his short time on this Earth, but I’m struggling with it.  He had so much love and kindness to offer and was never less than kind, loving and caring to me.  It’s just not fair.

I haven’t had to shoulder this alone.  My friends have rallied around me with kind words and support this past week and I’m so grateful.  One of them told me, “big grieving is an indication of big love.”  It was a huge love and a huge loss.

This picture is from the bar in Mexic0… JT and I are in the middle.  We had no idea who the others were… we met them there and had a blast.

To all our veterans: Thank you for your service.  We’re forever grateful for your service.  That includes my husband.  Despite what problems surround us, he has fought the good fight and has always been willing to answer the call of duty.  I’m proud of him.  Olivia told him last night, “Thank you for being a Soldier boy, Daddy.  Because of you and all the other ‘Vetrins’ I don’t have to go to school tomorrow.  That’s nice of you and I’m proud of you.”  I reminded him that is probably the nicest thing anyone will ever say to him.  Especially in the 5 y.o. age group.

Yesterday, the Marine Corps celebrated its 235th birthday.  When I got married, I married a Marine.  Our groomsmen were Marines.  My girlfriends dated Marines.  It’s what we did.  The Marines were my first real “taste,” if you will, of the military.  Except for one Coastie.  Anyway, I went to UNC-W and Camp Lejeune wasn’t that far away, so the Marines would come into town to mack on the college girls and we would score free beer.  It was then that I realized the old saying was true:  A uniform is the one thing that can make most anyone look good.   It wasn’t until Will left the military, joined the reserves and got ready to deploy to Iraq did I fully understand what it was to be a military spouse.  Remember, we were no longer active duty, and had not been for many, many years; we were a reserve family.  Since that time, my appreciation has grown from ogling cute boys in uniform to appreciating what the uniform stands for.  I didn’t grow up in a military household and, in my opinion, it’s hard to grasp what the call of duty is during peacetime when you’re 20 years old.   At least it was for us.

There are tons of jokes using the branches of the military as acronyms and we’ve heard them all.  After all, we’ve been in three branches: Marines, Navy and Army National Guard.

From our Navy friends: Marine stands for My Ass Rides In Navy Equipment

From old Navy friends: Navy stands for Never Again Volunteer Yourself

From Marines: Army stands for Air Force Rejected Me Yesterday and Ain’t Ready to be a Marine Yet.  Others say US Army is: Uncle Sam Ain’t Released Me Yet!    Backwards: Yes My Retarded Ass Signed Up.

There’s a lot of fun that goes into those.  Everyone’s dog is bigger than the next person’s in their eyes.  And that’s fine. It’s the pride in the uniform and the dedication to do the job that makes it work.  It takes all the branches to protect us.

Over the past few years, I’ve had the pleasure, and privilege, of meeting some of the most wonderful people.  People who have touched my life in ways they will never know.  I have hugged wives whose husbands were deployed.  I have cried over videos of homecomings.  I have stood on the tarmac in tropical storm weather holding hands with other wives and families waiting for it to finally be my turn.  I have been to funerals, arranged for food to be brought in for families and ordered Gold Star banners.  I have felt inadequate in wishing I could do more.  I always will.

Over the years, my appreciation has grown up a lot.  I appreciate our Nation and the jobs that it takes to keep us safe, a man in uniform still makes my heart skip a beat and I still firmly believe a uniform is the one thing that can make most anyone look good.

Hooah!

It has been almost a decade since America was forever changed. Today we remember those whose lives were lost and their families who were left behind.

A special thanks to all our public service members who work to protect us. It takes a special person to put others before themselves and answer the call of duty.

Eight years has passed since 9-11-01, but the ways our hearts, souls and lives were touched remains the same. We’re proud of our police, fire and rescue who protect and serve our communities on a daily basis and proud of our military who protect and serve our country – domestic and abroad – whenever and wherever there is a need. Thank those who serve our communities.  Trust me, they appreciate the kind words.

Friday, June 5

First, thanks for all the well-wishes and prayers.  The good word today is my cousin is hanging on with everything she has.   She developed a fever yesterday, but it is back to normal today.  Adrenaline is wearing off and her parents are exhausted, as are other friends and family members.  My mom and an aunt drove down yesterday and Fabul-O and I are headed this afternoon.

There are so many unanswered questions as to what happened and the only one who can give answers is the guy she was with and my understanding is he is saying very, very little at this point.

We’re all hopeful and praying for the best.

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My family could use some prayers and good thoughts.

I got a call this morning about a younger cousin who was in a tragic boating accident yesterday.  There are some rough days that lie ahead for my aunt and uncle.  Please hold my family in your thoughts and prayers, including those who will be on the road traveling this morning to go provide as much comfort and support as possible.

Tell one extra person you love them today and, when you hug, hug tight.

There’s a blog I follow who linked to Abby’s blog.  Before tonight, I’ve never visited Abby’s blog nor do I know this family.  What I do know is how reading about this little girl reminded me just how lucky and blessed we are.  My heart was touched and tugged at the same time.

The video shows an amazing little girl and there will be a need for a tissue.

There are things that constantly remind me that I need to count my blessings and name them.  Last night I watched Olivia sleep and I cried.  I cried because this perfect little person was just that – a little person.  I picked her up from her bed and held her for just a minute.  She woke up and told me, “I love you mommy.  Let me lay back down because I’m sleeping.”

We celebrated a birthday for Olivia.  This family celebrates every day.  If you will, offer up a prayer, good wish or whatever you will.  Not only for this family, but for all families who face struggles whatever they may be.

I was over at Sandra’s place, and she has this post (has sound on the post).   The song is by Darius Rucker, “It Won’t Be Like this for Long.”

I’ve re-read my post about Olivia at the doctor’s office and reminding myself how she sat there as brave as she could for as long as she could.  She tells me all the time, “I’m a big girl, mommy.”   Yes, she is.  But she’s also my little girl.  The little girl that jsut 33 short months ago was screaming as I held her for the first time.  The first words I said to her were, “It’s okay.  Mommy’s here.  I love you.”  I bet I’ve said those words a million times, if not more.

Tuesday night was a very trying evening for us.  The ride home from school was laden with “why?” questions of all sorts and after about 30 minutes, I really couldn’t hear it any more. I asked her to please, please, please just be quiet for a few minutes.  She replied, “OK, mommy.  I’m sorry.”  She didn’t need to be sorry.  She was being, well, her.  I was the one who needed to be sorry.  We got home and had dinner and a tea-party and our nightly routine.  After everyone was gone to bed, I couldn’t sleep.  I went and sat on the edge of her bed and watched her sleep.  My once scared little girl is now almost four with so much independence and ideas and strength.  Her imagination is off the charts and the compassion this kid has is unbelievable.  Watching her sleep wasn’t enough for me.  I picked her up and rocked her.  She had no idea I was there (she’s not much of a rocker/cuddler any more).  I closed my eyes as I inhaled her shampoo and lotion.  I never, ever want to forget that scent.  The way her skin feels to my touch.  I’m constantly reminded by her that life is okay.  It may take me a few days to get back into the groove, but it’s okay.  We all have bad days.  We all have our attitude issues.  Sometimes we all just want peace and quiet.  No matter what, my beautiful, brown-eyed girl always tells me she loves me and puckers up for a big ‘ol kiss. 

Tonight we went to the Wal Marks for some stuff and I told her to not let me forget to get mousse.  After giggling, because the only mousse she knows is the animal, she asked me, “Why?” I told her I needed it to try and make my hair pretty.  Her reply, “But your hair is beautiful pretty just like it is.”  Beautiful pretty.  There’s a combo I’ve never been called before.  That’s how she sees me, that’s how I’ll be.

We hug and kiss and laugh daily.  We have good days.  We have bad days.  We have days that hover in the middle.  However, at the end of each and every day, no matter what our fights and our struggles were, I get the biggest hug and the wettest kiss and the best, “I love you, mommy” my tired ears can hear.  That is followed by an imaginary watch, necklace and some snack she whips out from behind her back. Because it’s getting cold now, she ties a green bean hat on my head.  Don’t know what it’s for, but she says I need it. She takes my word, why shouldn’t I take hers?

My baby’s growing up so fast.  So stinking fast. 

 

“It won’t be like this for long.”

We remember.

Our thoughts and prayers continue to go out. We continually give our most gracious thanks to those who defend us at home and abroad and this doesn’t just include our military. It’s a collective effort and we are grateful we are still able to live in the land of the free and the home of the brave. In spite of the things that divide us, we are still the greatest Nation and we should all be proud.

Many of us will stand together today in remembrance. We should still stand together tomorrow and every day that follows. Uniting is what makes us strong, but it needs to be continual; not just half a dozen times a year.

About a month ago, I found ArmyMomTimesThree and she had a link to “Warriors…in their own words.”  I sat quietly watching the trailer listening to the sounds of fire fight and absorbing the words of warriors past and present.  Their words gave me goosebumps and I couldn’t stop the tears from welling up.  After I watched it, I immediately ordered the full length DVD.  I told Will I had ordered it and he kind of had mixed emotions about it. 

Last night we watched it.  I hung onto their words and watched as their emotions sometimes got the best of them.  It was humbling, to say the least.  Listening to these gentlemen speak and hearing their words touched my soul.  They said they don’t want history to remember them.  They also said they would do it again.   

Will fell asleep before it was over and I don’t know that he will sit down to finish watching it.  I don’t know if he will share his thoughts on the parts he did see.  I simply don’t know and I’m not going to push it.  What I do know is that there are Soldiers in his unit that share some of the same thoughts as the warriors in the movie.  I’m proud to know my husband will gear up and do his job to the best of his abilities; the same as his fellow Soldiers will.  It doesn’t take away the fear, but it does bring me a sense of peace.  I have peace in my heart knowing that these Soldiers, brothers in arms, will take care of and honor each other, which, in turn, honors their families at home.

I’m certainly not suggesting you buy the DVD, but I would suggest you at least watch the trailer on the website. 

 

If you search the different corners of the blogisphere, you will find different answers, but the message will, for the most part, be the same.

I have never really known the life of a full time active duty military spouse. Will and I married when I was 23 and he was very close to getting out of the Marine Corps. We dated while he was active duty, but I was living the college life in another town 50 miles away and he and his buddies would schlep into town for the night/weekend. (Somebody always had a girlfriend who had an apartment with a floor that could sleep 20 easily.) So, aside from a trip now and then to base, I didn’t know anything about base life or how it was lived. My “badge of honor” then was that I was dating a Marine (and a cute one at that). We got married, got out of the military and moved away and began living our lives. After a few years, Will decided he wanted to go back in. He toyed with the idea of going back active duty, but he decided to join the reserves and our new journey began. By that point, we were a little older, more settled into our lives and our understanding and appreciation for things had changed. I still didn’t fully understand the life of being a military spouse; all I had to do was deal with one weekend a month and a couple weeks a year. Easy enough. We are in a non-military town and the majority of our in-town friends are civilians who have not lived the military life so conversations about service never came up. December 2004 changed my life as I knew it. I was in the beginning stages of being a mother and the beginning stages of being a full time military spouse. My husband was being recalled for active duty service. Now, before I go on, please know that when someone joins the military, they have to sign a contract. In this contract it says they will serve their country when called upon, no matter what. When you sign it. You agree to it. There was never a question regarding serving (in the beginning we thought it was voluntary recall, but it wasn’t). He knew what he needed to do and I supported him with all my heart and soul. I watched my husband’s face as he chose the words to tell me he was ready to serve. He never wavered or flinched. It was very matter-of-fact. The pride I thought I knew was nothing. It was at that moment, in my heart and in my mind, I felt like a military spouse. For some (i.e. us) who are removed from “the life” by living where we do, it took a bit longer for it to seep in, but it did and we’ve never looked back.

Over Will’s first deployment, I learned a lot about him, me and us. I saw the hero in my husband. I saw how he stepped up with honor when duty called and not one time did it cross his mind on trying to figure a way to get out of it. I listened to his stories of construction and rebirth in an area devastated by war. I listened to the good and smiled. I listened to the bad and cried. I listened intently and I heard what he had to say. I learned about my weaknesses and strengths and used it as a tool to educate myself. Yes, there were a lot of pity-party days. There were more tears shed than Heaven has angels. I prayed harder than I ever imagined possible. I learned to stop being so selfish. I learned to accept what was dealt to me and to deal with it. It wasn’t always easy, and it still isn’t, but I’m a better person because of it. 

Am I a perfect wife?  Depends on who you ask.  (hee, hee).  No, I’m not.  Are we a perfect couple?  Are you kidding?  Don King wouldn’t referee some of our matches.  There have been times where we’ve been ready to throw in the towel, but we manage to get our egos in check and get back to life.  Those who know us well know we are polar opposites, but we’re a good complement to one another.  I’m the mouth and if he were any quieter he would be mute.  I’m the cook, he’s the techy.  I’m the read it and do it by the book girl, he does it his way, takes it apart and then realizes I’m right.  I’m a tad bit snarky at times, he’s patient and puts up with it.  We’re kind of like peanut butter and jelly…we’re good together, but we’re also good enough to stand alone.

Those who volunteer to serve our country are an elite minority, as are their spouses, and we are proud to be a part of it. Our service members come from all backgrounds and join the service for different reasons. For some, it is in their blood. For others, they need direction and discipline. There are some simply have a GED and there are those who hold doctoral degrees. Some like it and stay in. Some hate it and count the days to get out.  It is the differences in backgrounds, skills, personalities and all the other stuff that make the military community what it is.  Oddly enough, just like the rest of the world.   There are some who think those who serve in our military are the bottom of the barrel and the dregs of society with no other choices.  I, and anyone with half a wit about them, know how much crap that is.  Will and his soldiers have their annoying boy habits and cut up like boys will, but when it comes down to it, they know their job and they know it well.   They do their job and they do it well.  

Being a military spouse is an honor and it means I get to experience life from different angles and points of view.  It adds one more category on my resume of life.  It means I get to learn about things I would otherwise wouldn’t know about.  It has taught me compassion and understanding.  It has helped me see clearly the blessings that have been bestowed upon me and to share with others.  It has taught me to dig down deep and pull from within.  It has taught me how to be resourceful.  It has taught me that “hurry up and wait” means just that.   Ya’ll know I’m a realist and there is a TON of ugly that can come with it.  I don’t blow sunshine and white picket fences still have splinters, but it is what it is.  How we choose to embrace it is up to us. 

I don’t know what it’s like to pack up and move 5 times in six years or what it’s like to deal with base housing.  What I do know is that my heart skips a beat when my soldier puts on his uniform.  I know that it hurts like hell to run into his rucksack in middle of the living room floor on the way to let the dog out at 3 am.  I know that when I kiss him good-bye and smooth out the material of his uniform reminding him to be safe, I’m letting the National Guard have one of my best friends who just happens to be one of its best soldiers. 

So, what does all this mean?  It means I’ve got the best life has to offer and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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This was my blogpost from two years ago….

Well we are finally able to access our email. Last nite we weren’t able to so there were no picures. We met Olivia yesterday afternoon about 3:30. We were the third family of four to be called. She was not happy, to say the least, but we were expecting that and were as prepared as we could be. She has a set of lungs that must be the size of Texas and they sure do work. She cried for about an hour and then settled down some. Last night we were able to get her to smile and giggle a little bit. She has a cold and is congested and tugging on her ears so that’s not helping any. We gave her some Cheerios and she has held two of them, one in each hand, for about an hour. She won’t eat them and she won’t let them go, either. When the nanny handed her to us, she had a small piece of wrapped candy in one hand a pack of cookies in the other. She never tried to put either in her mouth. She loves her daddy and has gotten picking his nose down to a science. She loves to open her book and turn the pages. She’s still not sure of everything and we are letting her set the rules. She went down last nite about 8:30 and slept until almost 7 this morning.To sum up, we love her. We love her more than we ever thought we would. Being a mom feels good. However, I have quickly experienced the angst of not being able to make my baby feel better.Here are some pictures and we’ll send more as we get them off the camera.Lots of love to everyone.
Will, Susan and Olivia

Three years ago, someone made a choice that, unbeknownst to us, would change our lives in a way we never dreamed possible.  February 20, 2005 a tiny baby, we now call Olivia, was taken to the Chongqing Children’s Welfare Institute (also known as Chongqing Children’s Home) in Chongqing China.  While we’ll never know the circumstances surrounding the choices of her birthmother/parents, we are blessed and honored to have this child as a part of our family tree.  Exactly one year from that date, she had her forever family.

It’s amazing how our lives have evolved over the past two years.  I think Olivia has probably taught us more than we could ever dream of teaching her.   We have our moments, but if we didn’t we wouldn’t be a normal family.  However, what we also have is love; a lot of love.  Not to mention THE coolest kid on the planet.

Here are some pictures from the day we were promoted from a couple to parents…

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My girl today:

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I love her.  I love her.  I love her.  If another blessing is never bestowed upon me, I will have known the greatest blessing of all: the love of my daughter. 

When I was growing up, my grandmother always said that if it was raining on the day of a funeral it was God’s blessing.  However, she also said if it was sunny on the day of a funeral it was God’s blessing.  Yesterday morning it rained.  When I walked out my front door and felt the first drops on me, I smiled; God was going to bless us today. 

As I pulled into the church parking lot, I smiled again; the Patriot Guard Riders were standing in the cold, windy mist with their flags. Some had hats and gloves others held cups of coffee to keep their hands warm.  I hugged some, shook some hands and thanked them.  They thanked me.  There was absolutely no reason to thank me and Biker B. said there was, “For all you do,” with You being BSM collectively.  It was the same reason I thanked them. 

There were two  friends who spoke; one from his childhood and the other from his service.  Both told stories that made everyone give a chuckle and as we watched the backs of the heads of those in front of us nodding, we knew they were all remembering the good times.  We always hear the stories about bonds of brotherhood, but it’s typically in general conversation.  Yesterday that bond was so evident.  The point at which it sank in for me was when his best friend, who also serves in the Army, said it through tears; he called him a brother and said he loved him. The words of his other friend that stood out to me were when he said the mission was successful.  He described a mission being successful when you leave on a mission you, you want to make sure your men return; Josh’s men returned.  He also described the mission as being successful when you return; Josh returned home. 
 
At the cemetery it was quiet except for the sounds of muffled sobs as the pastor read his words. It was cold and windy at times.  Although I knew it was coming, the 21 gun salute caused me to jump with each round.  There was an Army officer to my left, about 1-1/2 steps behind me, standing at attention and as that first round was fired, a tear rolled down his cheek.  They also flew a helicopter over.  Watching as the flag was folded and presented to his parents, we knew the end of the service was drawing near.  The pastor quoted Joseph Campbell in his message at the church , “A hero is someone who has given his or her life to something bigger than oneself.”  I always remember a quote by Karl von Clausewitz, “Courage, above all things, is the first quality of a warrior.”  This young man held so many titles: son, brother, friend, Soldier, warrior, Hero. He was courageous in his service and duty and is a true Hero who was loved by so many and remembered by so many more.  He now lays to rest at the foot of his grandmother’s grave.
 
Very humbling.

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Last night over dinner, I needed Will to talk to me.  I needed him to tell me things that he normally wouldn’t talk about with me, mainly the pretty much unspoken bond he shares with his soldiers. He isn’t one who discusses his feelings openly and sometimes not even when I ask.  As I told him about the remarks from the funeral, I asked was it “true.”  We hear about that bond but is it something that is really felt deep within.  While it sounds like an odd question, I needed to hear his answer. The times I see Will with his Soldiers/friends are social situations with laughing, cutting up and annoying boy habits.  And his answer was simple, “Yes.  Those you train with, work with and fight with are your brothers.  When you leave on a mission your goal is to bring them home.  His friend was right, their mission was successful; everyone came home.”  My Soldier’s voice was hushed as he spoke those words, whether he intended it to be or not.  I told him that even though they are human, we have this image of Soldiers (Marines, Airmen, etc., too) being so strong and unwavering and it was hard watching these Soldiers shed tears.  We all shed them. 

The L family wants to wish you all a very Happy Thanksgiving! Each year we remember things we are thankful for and this year will be no different.

This is the second Thanksgiving Olivia has been home with us. It’s hard to believe that in just a couple of months she will be 3 years old and in February we will celebrate our second anniversary as a family. It’s amazing to watch her change and grow before my eyes. I never in a million years would have imagined being a mom could be so amazing and it keeps getting more and more amazing. That’s not to say we don’t have our moments because, believe me, we do – many of them. However, if another blessing is never bestowed upon us, we will still consider ourselves blessed beyond all words to have her in our family.

This is also the second Thanksgiving since Will returned home safely from Iraq. There will be an extra place set at our table in honor of those who are serving away from their families this year. While our heroes are serving away from home, we will also keep their families, the heroes on the home front, in our thoughts and prayers, too. We send our thanks to them for their service and the sacrifices they are making.

We have our health, our jobs, a roof over our head, food in our refrigerator and all the comforts we could imagine.

I hope whatever you are doing today that you are safe and you enjoy the day. Remember to count your blessings and to share a kind word and smile with someone. You might not know they need it.

The L Family

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First place

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Second place

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You can see the rest of the pictures of the year here

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