Dear Phils,

Dear Phils,.

Dear Phils,

Dear Phils,

It has been over four years since you last saw our children. You would be proud of the men and women that they have become in large part because of the man you were. You once told me that we were good spouses, but we were even better parents. Somehow we got it right. While there were so many days when there wasn’t enough of the two of us (we always had more children than everyone else) or enough in terms of resources. We never had enough time, enough hands, enough energy, and we certainly had no money. In the end, it didn’t matter.

When you met me, you had just turned 21. On paper, neither of us was a good bet in terms of marriage. I was older than you were and I had three children ages 3, 4, and 5. I had just gotten out of a marriage and was struggling to get my feet on the ground. You were the immigrant boy who didn’t grow up with parents who set an example for nurturing or even investment. Nobody accepted us initially. I never understood why you pursued me so doggedly even after I rejected you time and time again. While I eventually got smart and told you yes on the 20th time you asked me out (who could say no to someone who was counting the rejections), I didn’t understand until long after we were married why you chose me.

You chose me because you told me that you fell in love with who I was as a mother. You watched me with people and you watched me with children. As shy as I could be, you saw my heart and you were drawn to something you told me that you hadn’t experienced much of. When I finally smartened up, I saw a man who wanted to love and to be loved. You blossomed when Patrick, Josh, and Emily became yours. Your favorite word was dad. When we fell in love, it was quick. We both recognized that we were better together than apart, and being together was all that mattered to us. Eloping to the Chapel of Love after four months of dating didn’t look smart to outsiders, but how could I say no to the man who proposed by asking me if he could be the father to my children and any children we might have together?

It took us two years after the wedding to have Alex. Medically, it didn’t look great, but you were okay with Patrick, Josh, and Emily. More than okay. You simply loved the hours in the park, sitting in church together, and most of all, cuddling on a big bed reading many stories at night. Even after 20 years of marriage, you came in at night to hear the voices and the stories that I was reading to the children. You loved those simple moments.

Alex and Tim (see, I don’t have to call him by his nickname) finished our family and completed us. While life got crazy and while we certainly felt like we had moments of complete failures as parents because we recognized that in our choice to have so many that sometimes we would let people down, you put the children first over each and every one of your needs. You would rush home from work so that I could run out the door for my nightly run. You knew that run would make me happy and you thrived under those two hours playing with them. You had to have been tired, but you were fully engaged. You never complained and you often sent me away for weekend trips in Germany so that you could bond with the children after your deployments. It was as if you and the children conspired sometimes. They knew when I went away that you would eat junk food, stay up too late, and watch movies I would never let them watch. Who could forget coming home from church and little Emily saying, “Look! It’s Hannibal Cannibal Lector!” Excuse me?! I still can’t believe that you showed our girl that movie!

You took Patrick and Josh on wrestling trips and to Rome. You drove Emily home from all of the Baumholder practices so that she didn’t have to get rides from the ***** because they treated her like the pariah enlisted child. You loved being the parent that showed up to athletic events with the entire family in tow. There were so many of us that people always took notice. You loved church because we took the entire pew and, I chuckle, people always knew we were there. I would cringe, but you simply understood that they were kids and that they were good kids. The more people judged us for how many children we had, the more you worked to get ahead.

You didn’t believe in handouts because we chose to have as many children as we had. You did believe in studying and making rank as quickly as you could so that you could provide better. You showed our children that hard work pays off. You made your enlisted ranks the first time you tested on each and every rank and when Patrick was nearing the end of high school, you wanted to set the example for college. You still hold the record for the amount of Clep tests passed and you finished a bachelor’s degree in 18 months so that you could finish OTS one month before our oldest graduated from Bitburg High School. It wasn’t about competition, rather it was about showing through example what was important.

You were the kind of parent that worked with the children. I am a nervous driver, thus you got the fun of driving with five teenaged drivers. You held it together most of the time. I laugh when I think of the two times I remember that you lost it when one of them almost plowed into a brand new jeep as he pulled out of the driveway and the other driving in Colorado Springs. You attended Boy Scout meetings and campouts even though you didn’t like camping because you wanted to ensure that it was fun for the boys. You studied with Emily to ensure she passed the food handler’s test in UT so that she could get her first job. You never complained because you recognized that you had one chance to get parenting right. You hit it out of the ball park!

We had hard times with our children, and it bought you to tears more often than they realize. Once, after one of our boys messed up in a really big way, “I am disappointed, son, but I love you and we will get through this together.” I never loved you more than at that moment. Another one of our children had a cancer scare. I will never forget when you called me into our room in UT and you wept and wondered why it couldn’t be you. Then there was that time when you pulled me out of the water in Germany and told me in front of many, many parents that I needed to leave right then and there because our daughter was missing. Lastly, there was the time when you told one of our children that if people didn’t like who he was, that they had only liked the idea of who he was. You see, Phil had become the parent he had always wanted.

When you deployed, our youngest child had left the house. You felt a little adrift because our entire marriage had been build upon a house full of children. Few realize that you wanted us to adopt two more children because we had so much to give and we were still so young. It didn’t matter to you if it meant me quitting my job or that we would be giving up those selfish pursuits and time together. You simply wanted to give love and a family to those that weren’t blessed with the family we had raised. You thrived on watching your children grow into successful adults and cheered when they passed you. I will never forget you at Patrick’s medical school graduation. We were by far the youngest parents (you more so than me), and you were like a giddy boy! You looked forward to returning from your deployment and watching both Alex and Tim graduate from college, adopting the two girls from Vietnam, and becoming grandparents. You were in your element surrounded by the love of family.

On Father’s Day, I salute you as a father because more than being a soldier, and more than being my husband, you got it right. You were a man above all men in this area. Thank you for giving me the family beyond my wildest dreams and thank you for asking me out 20 times. Sorry that it took me so long to recognize the man you were.

L

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Beyond My Fears

Beyond My Fears.

Beyond My Fears

Beyond My Fears

Beyond My Fears

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Beyond My Fears

A borrowed line from a song sums it up well.  “People say that I’m amazing, strong beyond my years, but they don’t see inside of me.  I’m hiding all my fears.”  I have been afraid from my very first memories—afraid of fire, darkness, getting lost, fitting in, trying new things, you name it.  I quake and feel slightly nauseated when I am confronted with new situations, decisions, predicaments and even surprises.  I learned long ago, though, that waiting on the sidelines didn’t allow me to ever play the game.  I am good at being the mute friend and the friend that never takes the risks, but I am learning that nothing ventured is nothing gained.

2015 has been about reclaiming my life and facing my fears.  I haven’t always said why I am running certain states or doing certain things, but the last two marathons—the one on the United States Air Force Academy and the one in Seattle, WA were so much more than an athletic accomplishment.  In fact, the 26.2 miles were the easy part of the journey.

I ran in Colorado Springs because in the tumultuous aching days after Phil was killed, I couldn’t deal with the public nature of confronting my grief and trying to figure things out.  I shut down and I ran away.  I resorted to what has worked for me even as a child.  I become quiet and I center in—alone and facing my hurt.  Little did I know how many people would notice the full throttle retreat and how many people would carry me for so long—still carry me.  It took me three years, but I recognize that Colorado is where I belong.  Colorado isn’t where Phil and I planned to stay; we planned to retire to Washington state.

We had planned for more than twenty years to one day build our “grow old and die” house in Washington.  We had a dream of sitting on a porch outside watching our grandchildren play.  We had a dream of growing very old together and having time to travel with one another.  Phil’s death took all of my dreams and hopes for my future as I knew it.  None of my life looks familiar, feels familiar, or is familiar.  Our dreams are no more, and developing aspirations and dreams for my future alone is terrifying and unwelcome, yet necessary for life.

2015 is about finding my footing and making peace with my past.  I will never live in Washington because I can’t live a shared dream alone.  Dare I hope and dream for more?  Dare I think of establishing roots and a place where I belong?  I do belong in CO.  The mountains call to me.  They are my past, present, and future.  I am the sum of a lot of events, not just one.  I ran USAFA to let go of the pain I carried and to light the torch of hope.

Washington was a little harder. While I have been in Seattle since Phil’s death, running is personal for me.  I knew that people would know my story and I knew that I would be letting go of bitterness towards Phil’s mom who doesn’t understand what a hero Phil was, what a man Phil was, what a legacy as a father he left.  Washington meant letting go of the dream I carried since Phil and I were dating.  Even in our dating window, Phil and I wanted the house with the porch where we could sit like my grandparents in comfortable companionship.  On Saturday, I made my peace with all  that I do not have and I started looking ahead.  I started facing down the beast of fear.

The beast of fear only has power if it stops a person from acting or doing.  I am still the mute friend (I am shy) that stands by waiting to be picked, but I am going.  I am doing.  As I flew off of the slide of a mountain parasailing far above the trees, I recognized there is beauty in stepping out in faith even when a person wants to hide.  I am not sure where my steps will lead me, but fear or not, I am going and trusting that somehow, some way, I will know which path to take

Taking Back My Life

Taking Back My Life.

Taking Back My Life

Many people do not realize that 2015 is my year to take back the places I have avoided since Phil was killed. Today was the day I took back Washington state. To understand what Washington means to me, it means promise. Promise of a simpler time and promise of a dream. Even as a child Washington was a happy place for me. It represented love and warmth like a blanket. My grandparents and my aunts and uncles always made this state feel like home. With Phil, Washington was our future and our hope.

After 26 years in the military, Phil began to see the need to prepare for the next chapter of when those days would one day end. Granted, Phil had still had 10 years left because he owed USAFA five years for the PhD. He had one year of deployment and one operational tour before he headed back to Colorado to finish out his military days. We had a dream, though. The dream didn’t include Colorado after the military days were over, they included Washington.

Washington wasn’t always good to Phil. He didn’t always fit and he was hurt deeply when he was forced to choose between me and his mother in 1988. Yet, it was in Washington that he was thrown a lifeline. In high school, Phil was hungry and he showed up for a free lunch—a lunch that was given by the ROTC department and the military recruiters. Phil decision to join the military gave him the coveted American citizenship that he wanted. Phil’s decision gave him a growing confidence and took him far from those days of knowing two words of English—ew-sa for USA and sum a team us for sometimes. Phil’s choice opened doors and took him far from Venezuela. Interestingly, though whether he served in the Air Force for the United States or not, he would have had to be in the military because Venezuela and France both had mandatory military service.

Yet, Washington was the state we both gravitated toward when we considered retirement. We even had the area picked out. Phil’s deployment pay was going to be our down payment for a piece of land in Port Angeles or Leavenworth. Phil had even sent floor plans for me to look at. When Phil’s life ended, my dream ended. I didn’t know where I fit. Sometimes I still don’t know where I fit, but this year I recognize that I need to stop running away from my past and my future.

Today I took back Washington one painful step at a time. I ran Seattle to take back a place I will never live. It isn’t that I don’t love WA, but after four years I am realizing that my future has to be built on new dreams. While I wish that I didn’t have to create a new plan or to deviate from what I wanted and expected, it is time for me to consider the way forward and a dream separate from the dreams we shared. 2016 is going to be my year of living and dreaming dreams, but until then I am quietly reclaiming the places that once haunted me. Today, it was Seattle.

Holy Whispers

Holy Whispers.

Holy Whispers

The Holy Whispers

In the face of grief and the shattering of every dream I held for this space of time, I have heard God speak to me. I had no language but the broken cries of a darkness that I didn’t understand. I stood bowed and lost in a sea surrounded by people looking at me and wondering how I could get up and how I could face a tomorrow that wasn’t very appealing any more. I have a strength forged not of self, but of a simple choice that opened in a very small window of time. While there are no magic formulas for loss of another, loss of a dream, or for loss of self, for me, doing what felt right in the face of the storm is what made the difference.

In the very first moments of hearing those unthinkable words, I fell to my knees keening. One thought crossed my mind. How could I claim to have faith if in my darkest hour I turned from the faith I proclaimed. I chose to fall into my faith. That choice has led my steps from that moment of a life interrupted by the unthinkable. While I remember very little of that first year, I do know that choice opened a small window that has led to a better version of the girl I once was.

I am grateful and have been grateful from moment one that so many people have come into my life and walked with me. That simple gratitude

is the basic building block for resiliency because if a person can find something to be thankful for , they have something to get up for on the morning. A person that is consumed with darkness and cannot find something to be thankful for is a risk for suicide. In fact, grief is a risk factor. By looking at what I did have versus what I could not change, I opened myself up to growth and the blessings that were coming at me at the speed of light.

It is hard to be grateful when life seems unfair. It is hard to be grateful when it seems that evil has won or when children are involved. I prayed every day for Phil’s safe return. My church prayed, my family and friends prayed, and yet my cries to God went unanswered—or did they? My faith has shifted. I have come to realize that life on earth is only part of the story and it is the only portion I know. I want to clutch my people, my things, my dreams, myself and somehow think that it is because it is something I have somehow earned. That was a faulty thought process for me. God gives every person free choice. I often choose wrongly. Phil’s assassin had a choice. He chose evil, but I have to believe that there is life beyond what we see here.

The shift in my faith is that I still pray with the groaning of my soul, but I trust that no matter how the prayer is answered that God’s provisions will be enough. Those words are hard to believe at times, but the choice to trust in what I cannot see has led to friendships that carry me in the storms and to a voice that cannot be quieted. In that small window and in the one cognizant choice I made, God spoke to me. How?

While the voice is not audible, it is a burning bush that blazes the way ahead. I have done what feels right to me and what is instinctual since moment one. Those instincts are the nudgings of the Holy Spirit guiding my steps through the tumultuous crashing black waters of despair.

I can see how every moment before that day led to that “being born for such a time as this.” I had to deal with the media from the start. My journey was and is public. By choosing to talk and to write, I learned that I can tell the world about military issues and that I can put a name and a face on military loss. I learned that I can control what is said and how it is said. My faith can blaze if I choose to be the one telling my story, thus I speak. Who am I to speak? Really, I am a nobody, but every one of those names that flash on our televisions and for every military man and woman who comes home bearing the visible and invisible wounds of war, I am somebody because it is for them that I speak. They all have stories interrupted or ended. My story continues through the telling of theirs.

I chose to run because that is where I can fall into my faith and where there is no hiding. I am simply Linda the girl who has run since she was 15. It is in the miles run that my tears fall and where peace fills my heart again. Running is my happy place and my fun place. It isn’t about winning or weight loss as much as it is about the quieting of the turmoil within. In the initial aftermath in the moments where I saw and felt only darkness and brokenness, and in a time that I wished that it had been my life taken, running gave me a foothold. By lacing up the running shoes and stumbling out of the door, I gave myself a gift of finding light again. While in my house, I was surrounded by a past that caused me more pain and a future that I no longer wanted. Running just let me be.

I chose to write because as those who have known me for years know, I am not good at talking about my feelings. I have a hard time letting people in and I have a hard time admitting my own weakness and need. When everything is gone, and in the choice to write and speak about my journey, a vulnerability was exposed. This fragile spirit was laid bare and it allowed for people to reach a helping hand to me. So many people have carried me and have been my lifelines that I cannot begin to list them all. Transparency and the wiliness to share have given me more than I ever could have asked for.

I also chose to go back to work five days after Phil was buried. I didn’t have to, but I chose to. That choice was an important choice because work allowed me to focus on other people for 9 hours versus focusing on everything I had lost. For 9 hours I could be just Linda, a worker, versus that girl. I could be normal for those 9 hours. In that choice, and in the choice to stoke the fire with education, I have seen the most professional growth and success that I have ever had. I know that this window will close in six years, but I have no doubt that I was born for such a time as this.

My life was interrupted and my dreams have deviated far from what I am familiar with or comfortable with. I hear the holy whispers of God in the nudgings of instinct. I see the burning bush even as I cower afraid and unsure. When I deviate and second guess where I stand, I feel unease and fear. As I step forward trusting, I am given everything I need and then some. I am grateful, more than grateful, that I am standing here right here, right now ready to do what is being asked of me.