Promises Made

This weekend did something to me. The Air Force Marathon will always be personal to me. I can hardly explain it, but the sense of pride I always felt at being a part of this organization and the pride I have felt watching my children serve alongside their father was something that gave me great joy. I loved and I do still love being a part of the long blue line. I am a member by default, but as surely as I would have been a veteran, I am a part of the whole. I love the blue uniforms, the clean cut images, the discipline, the structure, and the patriotism. While I hadn’t planned on running the AF Marathon, I got goaded into doing it by people who were with my Phil. People I didn’t even see this weekend, but as I ran and as I saw many people running with pictures of AF members on their backs, I was struck anew that this is a new Air Force and we have losses that are mounting. With that realization came another. I am fulfilling one of two promises to my Phil. I made these promises minutes before he left for what would have been a one year deployment. The promises were made haphazardly and with a distraction that masked the feelings of inconvenience and the feelings of the unthinkable never happening. The unthinkable did happen and those promises have become something I have stood on since day one. The easiest of the two, finishing a marathon in all 50 states is coming in three weeks. Knowing that I am completing a promise means that I am further out from when Phil was killed and it means that there is an emotional vulnerability because it means considering how much I have changed, how much my life has changed, and it means seriously contemplating the reality of the second promise—one that I am not sure I can do.

The running was easier because running was something I did before my Phil. I have run since I was 15. Running is the one thing people immediately call to mind when they think of me. I am that odd duck that has found happiness and grounding in the miles that I traverse. As a teenager, I had wanted to run across the United States. My parents reacted much the way I would have reacted if one of my children had wanted to do it. The dream ended, or so I thought. In 2007, with three of our children out of the house, Phil recognized that I was a little adrift. He recalled the dream I once held and he knew how many sparks that it brought me to travel to qualify for the Boston Marathon. He urged me to pursue running a marathon in all 50 states. This was a costly selfish goal, yet he wanted that independence, that goal, and that accomplishment for me. By 2011, he was ready for me to be done with this dream so that we could vacation together. He urged me to finish my 50 states while he was deployed so that I would have some connections and something to look forward to during the year we and to be apart. In our last talk, he made me promise two things. One was to find love and happiness again and one was to finish the 50 states. I told him not to be stupid, but even then he knew me better than I knew myself. He knew I would need something to pursue, something to train for, and something to live for.

On October 11, in Hartford, CT, I will hopefully run on steady and true feet all the way to the finish line. I never thought how much that it would make me contemplate the changes in my life. I have changed because I had no choice. I suppose I could have stayed curled in a fetal position with all hope gone, but I simply couldn’t give Phil’s assassin me too. I pulled up those big girl panties and just tried to breathe through the aching heartbreak because I know that Phil would be crushed if I stopped living. I knew that the assassin would dance in glee if he knew that I lived broken. I chose to tie up those running shoes, face each and every day, and to breathe through the pain that was both physical and emotional. Like a marathon race, there were points that I wanted to quit and points of the journey that seemed to much to conquer, but I stumbled on one faltering step at a time. Finishing these marathons and finishing that race will be emotional because it represents a journey I never thought I would be on and it represents a victory of sorts.

Understand that a marathon isn’t really over after the race. The pain is felt the worst two days out. It takes awhile to bounce back and to recover from the broken state. The sense of accomplishment is great, but the pain is ever present. This marathon is a metaphor for my life. Long, painful in places, and hard. While I know that I will somehow confront the painful steps and stumble on to the finish line, I know that the finish line does not negate the painful steps that occur after the race. I am slightly overwhelmed as I consider that I have had three moves (Germany, Acton, Hanscom), three jobs(teacher, Youth Director, and Resiliency), two cars (sold one when I went to Germany), one book, numerous blogs, and many speeches and videos later, how different I have become. I am different than the girl Phil knew and loved. These races are one more marker as to how far I have come, but I am well aware that I have miles and miles to go before I sleep. By keeping one of two promises, I see that there will be only one more promise to consider. I recognize that the running promise and the promise to find love/happiness again were the perfect promises because those promises let me keep a part of myself and they helped me begin to let go. With that dawning realization, I want to clutch the past, but I know that I must stumble on to the finish line. I run on…..and on.

Signs

So often people ask for signs to know that God hears the cries of the heart. They walk around with a crushed spirit that misses the burning bushes below their feet or within their clutching grasp. I am no different. I cry out for the burning bush that God gave to Moses forgetting that Moses never reached the Promised Land because he grew weary and began to doubt the provisions that God has freely given. While Moses initially stood firm in his faith, conviction, and vision, time and responsibility brought Moses to the point where doubt began to creep in. With that doubt, he wanted a promise that things were going to work out. The problem with that thinking is that one sign would not been enough. There would be more cries for signs and proof of the prayer answered. I know because I am Moses.

In the middle of the storm, I fought for breath and for light. I couldn’t miss the signs. On June 24, 2011, I got Phil’s autopsy photos and report. I felt like my heart shattered. I crawled into bed and wrapped myself in the blankets as I sobbed. I didn’t question my faith, but I did wonder why Phil and why not me. As darkness consumed me I felt a jolt and a picture of me standing at an altar in front of a minister with someone consumed me. I was horrified. I dismissed what I saw and continued with the groans of my heart. I felt a bigger jolt and the same scene filled my again. I was terrified. I leapt out of bed and fell in the blankets. As I lay on the floor crying and afraid, I looked up. I saw a complete double rainbow and I knew, I just knew that God was giving me a promise.

Throughout some of my darkest times, there have been other signs to blaze the night away. Once, when I was working with people that just didn’t understand, nor did they want friendship, I trudged up to the front door of my facility at 0530. I couldn’t open the front door. When I looked down there were pennies everywhere. More than 180 pennies covered the ground. I began to laugh at the spark that God had sent to remind me of his provisions.

Yet, three and a half years out, I want more signs, more glimpses. I want big undeniable signs. I often forget how many signs I have been given. I have more than I need. I was given a job that nobody thought would open here on this base and I work for incredible people. My house sold quickly and fairly. I am on base and things are working out. The problem? The more I get, the more I want. I want the magic mirror that can show me my future because I have grown weary of waiting. Waiting for what? I don’t know, but I do know that when I was one year out I told my minister that I was waiting for God to bless my life like he had blessed Job’s life. The look on Chaplain Pundt’s face was priceless. He told me that he had always wondered about Job because while Job did indeed find happiness again, and while Job was indeed blessed again, people are not replaceable.

That simple conversation literally shifted my paradigms. I need to be able to weather the storms, keep my faith, and trust that God is enough. He is enough even if this is all there is. I am working on keeping my heart available to the God winks or the signs that all is well. My burning bushes are there. I just often miss them because I am busy looking for what I think are signs or asking for bigger signs. I am going to try to pause and reflect on my many blessings and signs because daily they come. My prisms need to shift because I know, I really know who has orchestrated my life. There is nothing I have done on my own and I really do not need to be swallowed by a whale to know that the signs are all around me. I just need to watch and wait with hope.