Sunday, November 18, 2012

Where My Heart Really Is: Wounded Warriors

There are times when you just know.
You know you are exactly where you are supposed to be, at the exact time you are supposed to be there.

It's easier to be yourself when you're in that place, isn't it?
When your heart is so full, and your mind is so aware, and you care so much that there is much joy in the giving.

That place for me, is serving Wounded Warriors.

I grew up in a patriotic family with a long history of military service. So, I've always been a girl who recognizes the service and sacrifice of our military and their families. But last year, something happened.

When my little brother was spending a year in Afghanistan with the 10th Mountain Division, a guy from his company was seriously injured in an IED blast. I'll never forget the fear and trembling in my brother's voice when he told me about it a couple of days later.

I began to pray for this guy and his family.
Then, Chris came home on leave, and we went to visit Derek and meet his mom and then girlfriend (now fiance'!) at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, MD.

Something inside me shifted that day.
It was hard to come home from the hospital and think that anything else mattered. I had to do something. So, with your help, I began making meals for some of the wounded warriors and their families, and delivering them to the hospital.

Michael and I became good friends with Derek and Krystina as Derek healed.
Derek and Krystina and Derek's mom, Siobhan (aka "Team Derek") blessed us with a van!

For the last few months, I haven't been to Walter Reed, because I was traveling so much for our election coverage.
And I missed it so much.
Because my heart is there, with those guys. And the women who stand by them.
I want to help.

I am profoundly grateful for their service and sacrifice.
And I know the lasting impact of a traumatic life-changing injury. I believe that Michael and I are in a unique position to guide these young couples.
My heart beats for exactly that.

I've been so busy since August, that I haven't had time to sit down and sort out my thoughts about an experience we got to be a part of at the end of the Summer: The Joni and Friends Wounded Warrior Getaway at Sandy Cove in Maryland.

Thank you so much to those of you who donated so that we could be a part of this.

I want to share the long weekend in mid-September with you now.
We arrived on Saturday.
Our room was great. Fully wheelchair accessible (we don't have a roll-in shower at home, so it's always nice to have one when we get the chance), awesome view.
We met the other volunteers, and started our training - which was very educational and eye-opening - all about what our warriors face on the battlefield, and the challenges they have adjusting when they get home.

Sunday, we had a little more training, then were commissioned for serving at the Getaway. The wounded warriors and their families arrived in the afternoon.
We helped them to their rooms.
Then, we all came together.
It's amazing how a bunch of silly hats and costumes can break down language barriers.
At our Getaway, there were six Georgian warriors. Not like Waffle House Georgia, but Georgia, the country.
They didn't speak a lot of English, but smiles translate in any language.
We had dinner together, then headed out by the water to watch a patriotic boat parade, and have homemade ice cream.
Then, we did something else that you don't need English for - we danced.
That night, I dug up the Russian I learned in high school, and I was able to connect with wives of the Georgian warriors. Thank God for Google translate on my phone, too! It was fun.

The next morning, they welcomed me to sit with them. And we all became friends on Facebook.
There were a lot of super fun activities for the warriors and their families to participate in, like fishing.
It was so neat to see them take advantage of all of the opportunities.
We even got to the chance to do some awesome things we've never done before, either.
Like kayaking.
Michael and I had a role helping the Georgian warriors and their wives/caregivers. It was a joy getting to know them. During the sessions, we would meet as a group with the Georgians' doctor as our translator. We talked about war, and injury, and the effects of both. We bonded as we shared our stories with each other.

By Monday, we felt like old friends.
Laughing, and eating, and doing the Hokey Pokey and playing Limbo and sitting by a fire.
And we lit these really cool lanterns, and set them off.
Sib Charles, Program Director for Joni and Friends Eastern PA (and fellow quad wife) helped me overcome my fear of fire. Kind of. Okay, not really, but it was sweet that she tried.
Tuesday, the adventures continued.
Each morning, we started with singing and games and giveaways.
There were only two children at our Getaway, and they had their socks blessed off.
Mike King, Community Resource Coordinator for Joni and Friends, shared his story, and brought out some of his adaptive equipment and the Georgian warriors were eager to jump right on and get going! It was so neat seeing their smiles!
I can only imagine how freeing that must have felt for them.
That afternoon, the wives and one warrior's mother were treated at the spa!
It was equally as heartwarming to see these precious ladies being pampered.
Then, another super-amazing first for my guy and myself - PARASAILING.
We seriously had the most adventurous Summer, ever. First surfing, and now parasailing.
We got Michael and his wheelchair transferred on to the boat.
Then, I went first.
When I was up there, I realized, Michael could totally do this!
So, I convinced him, and the next thing you know, he was up there!
It's so quiet up there.
And you get such a good perspective, looking down from above like that.
It was profound.

After dinner, another once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the warriors. The chance to go up in a hot air balloon!
That night, we had a coffeehouse, and my husband may or may not have embarrassed me by singing not one, not two, but three songs at karaoke. Three. Really?

It all ended on Wednesday. 
We saw bonds made, wounds healed, and relationships restored.
What began at Sandy Cove was just the beginning. Since then, we've been able to stay in touch with the warriors through Facebook, and on Tuesday, we'll have the honor of seeing the Georgian warriors again, at Walter Reed.

I can't wait to hug their necks and see their smiles, and fire up Google Translate on my phone again.

And Michael and I will be there on Thursday too - to serve Thanksgiving dinner with an amazing non-profit, Operation Ward 57. I'm looking forward to visiting and bringing meals again, on a regular basis.

It takes ALL of us to heal the wounds of war. They're so much deeper than just the physical wounds that you can see. There is so much unseen that needs to be healed as well. 

I love these families, and I'm honored to play a small part in their healing.

1 Corinthians 13:13 says, "Three things will last forever--faith, hope, and love--and the greatest of these is love."

Let's love them back.
This is really where my heart is.


Bethany Marchese said...

That's amazing! I'm so glad you & Michael got to experience those things. it's definitely one of those once in a life-time thing <3

Diane Moody said...

Wow wow WOW! So grateful to you all for sharing this with us! What a fantastic experience for you and all those who were there. I'm so thrilled you go to go!